Wildlife Rescue Center seeks expansion into Aquebogue

Representatives of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center met last Saturday with the Greater Jamesport Civic Association to discuss its plans to expand to the North Fork. The nonprofit organization hopes to restore a house built in the 1780s and develop other existing buildings on a 24-acre parcel as a rescue center.

The center has been operating for 19 years from Munn’s Pond County Park in Hampton Bays, for which it has a 20-year lease with the county.

Although the group has no plans to leave its current site, it said it’s running short on space there and that the North Fork location would supplement, not replace, it.

The proposed new site is on the south side of Main Road in Aquebogue, across from Tuthills Lane. Property owner Leslie Alexander, a philanthropist and former owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, has been a big supporter of the Hampton Bays center, which is named for his mother. The Aquebogue center would be named for his father, Jack.

Mr. Alexander has offered the property to the rescue center along with additional funds to cover the cost of establishing a facility there, according to Ron Fisher, a member of the center’s board of directors.

The Aquebogue property is split between two zoning categories, Mr. Fisher said. The section fronting Main Road is zoned Rural Corridor, while the land farther south is zoned Residential.

The rescue center has no interest in developing the residentially zoned property and plans to sell the development rights to Suffolk County so it can be used only for agriculture. A walking path is also being considered for the land to the south, Mr. Fisher said.

Nonprofit animal rescue centers are not listed as a permitted or prohibited use in the town code. The center would like the town to add it to the code as a permitted use in the Rural Corridor zone, Mr. Fisher said.

Other options include obtaining a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals or a special permit from the Town Board. Mr. Fisher said they prefer the zone change option.

Virginia Fratti, the group’s founder, said there is no money to be made in the field of nonprofit animal rescue, so it’s unlikely the area would be inundated with rescue centers if a zone change were approved. She said the state requires rehabilitated animals to be released where they were found.

The group wants to restore a dilapidated three-story, six-bedroom house on the western part of the property as a residence for veterinary interns, while the brown building fronting Main Road on the eastern side would be used as the rescue and education center. An 18-car parking lot is proposed between those buildings.

The buildings toward the south of the property also would be used, Mr. Fisher said. A Quonset hut is envisioned as an animal recovery center, where injured birds could relearn to fly, and a smaller building east of that would house a waterfowl recovery pool for use in the event of a local oil spill.

Traffic was also discussed at the meeting.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the project is not meant as a “tourist attraction” that would generate traffic, which was a concern until the plan was changed after proponents met with her. She said traffic concerns have been addressed.

Mr. Fisher said the entrance/exit is being proposed for the eastern part of the property because there’s a curve in the road on the western side.

Civic association president William Van Helmond, a former Hampton Bays resident, said he believes the rescue center is an asset there.

A woman who didn’t give her name said the plan will not cause a lot of traffic, especially compared to the number of cars at places like Woodside Orchards, where vehicles park on the side of Route 25.

Mr. Fisher said the rescue center will continue to seek public feedback on the proposal.

He said Mr. Alexander “has told us we’re up against the clock and that this isn’t the kind of project he is willing to have dragged out.”

Photo caption: Ron Fisher, a member of the center’s board of directors, speaks at last Saturday’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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