June 21, 2006

Supe Proposes Pet-iquette

Town Supervisor Scott Russell has a bone to pick with some Southold pet owners: After a rash of complaints from beleaguered residents regarding the number of farm animals and pets some individuals keep on their property, Russell decided that it's time to take a look at the town code and make some changes.

As this publication went to press, Russell was expected to address the Southold Town Board during its Tuesday work session on pet ownership, an issue that had feathers ruffled in Greenport recently. The supe planned to present the topic so the board could ponder certain points of good pet-iquette, including how many pets is just plain too many?

"We have to start legislating good manners," said Russell.

Russell has no problem with pets per se: "I'm not looking to eliminate farm animals or domestic animals from residential property."

But Russell has been flooded with phone calls protesting the personal menageries maintained by some residents who are pushing the pet-lovers' envelope to the limit: "One Southold resident has three horses, a llama, pheasants, chickens, roosters, and the occasional goat. All on one acre, surrounded by a sea of residential homes."

Such flagrant disregard has becoming a "growing trend" in Southold, with complaints concerning pet owners gone wild coming in townwide from Cutchogue, Mattituck, and Southold, said Russell.

The supervisor maintains that the time has come to provide oversight and revisit the town code, which currently requires that Southold residents have an acre of property before owning horses, but "is silent on everything else."

In March, the Greenport Village officials grappled with a similar topic as residents gathered for a public hearing at a zoning board of appeals meeting regarding the "definition of a household pet."

The hearing was held at the request of Greenport Village Administrator Dave Abatelli, who received complaints regarding the early-morning honking of two geese owned by Fifth Street residents Michael and Isabelle Osinski.

The Greenport Village Code states that residents are permitted three "customary household pets." Abatelli requested the hearing because he was seeking interpretation of the code and a clearer definition of a household pet.

Area municipalities, he said, have variations of their codes, but only the village of Sag Harbor's code specifically states that it is not lawful to keep flocks of chicken, geese, ducks, or other waterfowl. In other villages such as Westhampton Beach, there are variations of the code, but waterfowl are not specifically mentioned.

Many municipalities have set procedures for dealing with code violations, with a formal complaint process, which Greenport does not have.

The two emden geese that sparked the flurry of ruffled feathers are named Thanksgiving and Christmas, so dubbed because, when purchased, "we planned to eat them," said Michael Osinski.

Soon, however, the couple and their two children warmed to the winged waterfowl. Osinski maintained that the geese have become beloved family members, following him even on the most frigid days as he toils on his oyster farm.

Russell believes in the case of the Greenport geese, neighbors who complained may have "overreacted." Anyone purchasing property in Southold town is "buying into" a rural town where there are bound to be dogs and horses and winged waterfowl, he said. But there also comes a time when the town board has to say "enough is enough."

The issue is reflective of the larger problems of code enforcement in town; Russell said the problem is twofold: Either the town code is not being enforced, or, in the case of pets and domestic animals, "the town code doesn't address" the issue at all.

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