For the past year, Kent Animal Shelter has been searching for a property to house a new facility after plans to expand on its current property at the edge of the Pine Barrens sparked protest from a local environmental group.
But the shelter’s search might bring it closer to home than expected.
Kent is considering the purchase of the property directly across the road from the current animal shelter, where it can proceed with its plans to build a new, state-of-the-art kennel housing twice the number of animals as its current facility.
The new property is just outside the core preservation area of the Pine Barrens, which means it will be exempt from the strict regulations against new development that have halted the progress of the shelter’s initial plans to expand on its current property.
“It’s not in the Pine Barrens, so that doesn’t enter into the equation,” said Pam Green, executive director of Kent Animal Shelter.
Kent first announced its plans to build a new shelter and kennel nearly five years ago, proposing to raze the 50-year-old building that houses its dog kennel and rebuild it with a state-of-the-art facility that would increase the number of animals the shelter can house and drastically improve their living conditions.
The proposal would have also significantly reduced the shelter’s current impact on the environmentally sensitive Pine Barrens by upgrading its aging cesspool to an advanced wastewater treatment system. The new wastewater treatment system would filter out nitrogen and other harmful nutrients from the kennel, which is located just feet from the Peconic River, before they seep into the groundwater.
But the shelter’s proposal requires an exemption from the strict prohibition on any new development within the Pine Barrens core preservation area. Kent Animal Shelter was built on its current property decades before the prohibition on new development was enacted, but because of the extent of the construction proposed for the new kennel, the shelter needs to seek an exemption from the State Central Pine Barrens Commission.
Local environmental group Long Island Pine Barrens Society, headed by environmentalist Richard Amper, has pushed back against the shelter’s proposal, arguing that Kent does not meet the very specific qualifications for an exemption from the law.
Amper and the Pine Barrens Society have threatened legal action against the State Central Pine Barrens Commission should it approve Kent’s application for an exemption, leading Kent to ask for repeated adjournments of the commission’s proceedings. The most recent was a three-month adjournment granted last Wednesday. In the interim, the shelter has searched for a new home.
Kent’s search began earlier this year, but though the shelter has considered several locations outside the Pine Barrens so far, nothing has worked out. Kent is depending on the expansion to continue the work it does with animal rescue and its spay and neuter program in the community, Green has repeatedly said.
The possibility of a new location right across the street would be an ideal solution, Green says, because it would allow Kent to keep its current property as well.
“We would build a new kennel on that property and remove the old kennel from its current location,” Green said. “The buildings that are on the current property – the clinic, the offices, the cattery – can all be renovated on the same footprint.
“The building we really need is the new kennel,” Green said.
Kent is still in the negotiating stages of purchasing the new property, and the shelter would need approvals from Riverhead Town before it can proceed with a purchase, but Green sounds hopeful this might finally be the solution the shelter has been looking for.
“It’s been a long time,” Green said.