Nearly four years have passed since Kent Animal Shelter began trying to upgrade its cramped and aging facilities in Calverton, but there still has not been a decision made on whether it will be allowed to do any construction at its current location at the edge of the highly regulated Pine Barrens.
The shelter’s plans – which would double the amount of animals it can house and significantly improve their living conditions – can’t move forward unless the State Central Pine Barrens grants Kent an exemption from the strict prohibition on new development within the Pine Barrens’ core preservation area. The commission in January again put off any decision on the application.
Kent’s application has been delayed by fierce opposition from a local environmental advocacy group, which is threatening to sue if the exemption is approved and says Kent’s problems could instead be solved by moving the shelter out of the Pine Barrens.
But the question is: Where?
“So far, there’s nothing concrete on the table,” a beleaguered Pam Green said yesterday.
Green, who is executive director of the animal shelter, says an energy company may be willing to donate part of its property in Shoreham to Kent. The former site of the Tallgrass golf club, the property will soon be used as a solar farm, and there may be an unused portion that could be donated to the animal shelter.
But she has not yet had any discussions with the energy company itself – only its lawyer, who also represents Kent Animal Shelter. And, she said, Town of Brookhaven officials apparently have some objections to Kent moving its shelter to the future solar farm, though they have not told Green what those objections are yet.
“So that may not pan out,” Green said yesterday. “I’m not sure what’s happening at this point.”
“Dick Amper has been touting that other possible locations are being offered to us, but so far we have nothing concrete,” she said.
Richard Amper is the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, which has raised much of the protest against the shelter’s expansion at its current site. Since Kent filed its application for a waiver, Amper has argued that the shelter does not meet either of the very specific qualifications for an exemption under the law.
“I think all the people that are fighting for the expansion of Kent are right to want Kent expanded,” Amper said in an interview last fall. “But they don’t understand that the law prohibits it for the sake of water quality protection. I don’t think this should be a battle between protecting our four-footed friends and providing water to our two-footed friends.”
Though Kent was built in the Pine Barrens decades before the legislation prohibiting new development was enacted, the shelter needs to seek an exemption to that law because of the extent of the construction proposed.
An exemption can only be granted if Kent can prove the property has no beneficial use and is causing the shelter extreme hardship, or that the proposed expansion would solve a public health or safety issue that requires the shelter to operate in the Pine Barrens.
Kent applied for a hardship waiver with a new site plan in early 2015, after withdrawing its previous application and site plan the year before. But the Pine Barrens Commission has not yet ruled on the application, adjourning the case month after month.
The L.I. Pine Barrens Society threatened to bring legal action against the commission if it grants the waiver, insisting that to do so would violate the state law the commission is charged with enforcing.
“The public put up $750 million to buy up this land from private owners to prevent development, and it wouldn’t be fair to them,” he said. “The commission may not use its discretion and say, ‘Yeah, it’s for dogs.’”
He said that waivers within the core preservation area are “usually only granted to government agencies that need to do something to protect the public.” For example, he said, a government entity might get a waiver to build a cellular tower that would provide service to emergency responders. “They could only do that in the core because that’s the range of the transmitter, and that’s why they need it,” he said.
“Kent would have to show there was a major and significant public health and safety issue that only they could solve, and that it required their being in the core,” Amper said.
He agreed that Kent provides an important service to the community, but said that is not enough reason to grant the waiver.
“It’s never been a case of, ‘I need to build something new because people can benefit from it,’” Amper said. “If they can do that, then CVS could come along and say they’re providing drugs and a pharmacy.
“If the commission were to grant the waiver to Kent, that would create a precedent that others would use,” he said.
The shelter’s waiver application is on the Pine Barrens Commission’s agenda again on Feb. 17. Green yesterday seemed cautiously optimistic that two new members on the board – Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and N.Y. State DEC regional director Carrie Meek Gallagher – will make the application’s prospects a little brighter this time around.
“It’s been years now,” she said, with a dry laugh. “We need to do something if we’re going to be able to continue into the future with this operation.”
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