Wildlife rescue pitches updated plan for expansion to Aquebogue

07/25/2019 5:55 AM |

Representatives of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays returned to the Greater Jamesport Civic Association Saturday to pitch an updated plan to expand to property in Aquebogue. 

The nonprofit group wants to restore a 24-acre parcel on the south side of Main Road in Aquebogue and establish a new animal rescue center there.

The organization is running out of space at its current facility on Suffolk County property in Munn’s Ponds County Park in Hampton Bays. The county does not want the group to expand there, board president Jim Hunter said in a phone interview Monday.

Leslie Alexander, a philanthropist and former owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, owns the Aquebogue property and offered to donate it to the wildlife center, along with funds to cover the cost of establishing a new facility, Mr. Hunter said.

Civic association president William Van Helmond, a former Hampton Bays resident, said Monday that the revised plan addresses concerns members raised at the March meeting, when the plan was first pitched. One of those concerns, he said, involved maintaining the existing footprint of each building.

There are currently five buildings on the property, all of which would be used strictly for animal rehabilitation services, Mr. Hunter said. Visitors would not be permitted to interact with animals in those facilities, he said.

“We’re not allowed to display any of the animals to the public because they’re going to be released back to the wild, so you want to keep human contact to a minimum,” he said.

The property in question is split between two zoning categories: The roughly 4.5-acre section closest to Main Road is zoned Rural Corridor, Mr. Hunter said, and roughly 18 acres south of that is zoned Residential.

Since animal rehabilitation centers are not listed as a permitted or prohibited use in the town code, the nonprofit may ask town officials to add it to the code as a permitted use in the Rural Corridor zone.

Alternatively, the group could obtain a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals or a special permit from the Town Board.

Mr. Hunter said the rescue center is working to conserve the back portion of the property and sell the development rights to Suffolk County. The sale would prevent the residentially zoned acreage from being developed for housing. It would also give the nonprofit additional funds that would go toward renovations, he said.

He said he has met with the town over the past year, adding that he is frustrated that it’s taken over a year to move the plan forward. He said he’s concerned that Mr. Alexander may drop the project.

“We’re here to take care of animals, not answer everybody’s questions,” he said.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the group has met informally with the board. If the new site is closed to the public — excluding emergencies and scheduled school trips — it will “fit well in the area,” she said. The board is waiting on the rescue center to pass the development rights on to the county.

“It’s a good location. The bones that are there now are appropriate for what they want to do,” the supervisor said. “They’ve worked within the community to be able to adjust what they’re going to do to accommodate everybody. Just to have something on the North Fork for these animals, I think, is important, too.”

The rescue center at Munn’s Ponds County Park has been in operation for 19 years, Mr. Hunter said. Last year, it admitted about 2,000 animals.

Mr. Alexander has long supported the Hampton Bays facility, named after his mother. The Aquebogue center would be named after his father, Jack.

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