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NFAWL cat shelter in Calverton not a done deal yet

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Rex Farr looks over the land he plans to lease to the North Fork Animal Welfare League in Calverton. He and his wife run an animal rescue operation on his farm.

The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0 Thursday night to reopen a public hearing on the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s plan to build a 1,638-square-foot cat shelter on four acres on Youngs Avenue in Calverton.

The hearing was then adjourned until the Thursday, Jan. 24 ZBA meeting, when it will resume.

The ZBA had held a hearing on the proposal Nov. 8 and there were no speakers in opposition. At the time, ZBA members said they saw no problem with the plan and would approve it at their Dec. 13 meeting, which was later moved to Dec. 20.

The hearing was then closed for further comments.

But neighbors, who read about the hearing in the Riverhead News-Review — along with a headline saying there was no opposition— said they were not properly notified about the hearing, and that they were, in fact, opposed to the idea.

Neighbors also said the hearing came just eight days after superstorm Sandy, and that many people still were without power on Nov. 8, or waiting on gas lines.

“It’s obvious that the intent of town law is to afford all interested parties a right to their voice being heard,” said David Moran, an attorney representing the neighbors, in a letter to the ZBA.

At least 30 people from the neighboring areas attended the hearing, but only Mr. Moran also addressed the ZBA Thursday night.

“I’m not sure that I agree with many of the points raised,” Scott DeSimone, the ZBA’s attorney, responded, but he acknowledged that there was a defect in the mailing of notices of the Nov. 8 hearing, in that two properties that should have received notices did not.

Because of this, he urged the ZBA to reopen the hearing.

Afterwards, Mr. Moran spoke to neighbors in the hallway outside the ZBA meeting.

“What you were just able to witness, if you’ve never seen it before, is I like to call political cover,” Mr. Moran told the neighbors. “They’re never going to admit that they were wrong. They are going to admit that they fixed the problem.”

A number of neighbors spoke at a Dec. 4 Town Board meeting, saying the notices they were given were not clear as to what was being proposed.

The residents said there is a dangerous “s” curve on that section of street already, and that they objected to having a commercial operation in a residential area. They also said that the hearing took place shortly after Sandy, and many people still didn’t have their power back.

Supervisor Sean Walter told the group he would ask the ZBA to reopen the hearing.

Neighbors subsequently submitted 114 form letters in opposition to the cat shelter, saying they feared it would “change the character” of their community.

Peter Danowski, the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s attorney, said at Thursday’s meeting, “I might take issue with some of the comments,” made by Mr. Moran, although he did not get specific. Mr. Danowski pointed out that the proposal is not for a town animal shelter.

“This is housing for cats,” he said.

The Welfare League is planning to lease four acres of vacant land from Rex and Connie Farr for a dollar a year for 99 years and build a 1,638-square-foot cat shelter, which would only occupy about an acre, according to its executive director Gillian Wood Pultz.

Welfare League officials plan to catch stray cats, spay and neuter them, and either release them or put them up for adoption, Ms. Pultz said in an interview last month.

“The cat population in Riverhead is out of control,” she said.

The Southold-based nonprofit, which has run the Southold shelter since 1980, did agree this week to run Riverhead’s dog shelter — which does not house cats — under contract.

The cat shelter would not be run under contract with the town.

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