BY BILL WOLCOTT
Niagara Gazette — WILSON— When Carmen Presti appeared in Wilson Town Hall last week, his supporters seemed to outnumber those opposed to his proposed primate sanctuary in the town, but the neighbors feel they have more at stake.
The Zoning Board of Appeals heard both sides Wednesday night at a packed Town Hall, but announced before public hearing it could not make a ruling. The issue would have to get by the Niagara County Planning Board first, Wilson Zoning Board chairman Douglas Thompson said in advance of the debate.
Presti must first get a negative SEQR — that is, clearance under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
”We are not able to vote,” Thomson said. Still, the board could listen.
Presti, who has a primate sanctuary in a well-populated Niagara Falls neighborhood, presented the board with plans for a sanctuary on 5 acres of his 30-acre property on Wilson-Youngstown Road. “I have never once had a complaint filed in Niagara Falls,” he said.
He rolled out his plans and showed them to the board. He answered questions about the size of his primate population on Livingston Avenue and the size of his primates. The two chimpanzees go about 200 pounds, the other monkeys are much smaller.
Presti will not have to pay taxes on the 5-acre sanctuary, because it is an educational facity. He will pay taxes on his home property.
Wilson-Youngstown Road neighbors said their primary concern is safety. They also worried about property values, noise, smell, feces, appearances and water pollution.
Presti supporters came from people who know him, who worked with him and benefited from his fundraising and education work — including the Lions Club.
A handful of students from the Animal Management Program at Niagara County Community College lauded Presti’s care of the abandoned primates and his emphasis on safety.
Presti smiled when he heard the words of support from the young men and women.
John Chinachla of Youngstown-Olcott came to bat twice and concluded, “None have the interest the neighbors have.”
What’s next? According to Larry “Red” Banks, the town building inspector, he will call Presti’s lawyer and town experts to make sure they are on the same page.
The town board has called a special meeting May 1. The first step in the process is to declare the Town of Wilson the lead agency in the review. The town will send the application for the primate sanctuary to the Niagara County Planning Board.
If there is a negative declaration, the zoning board can approve the appeals.
“I don’t know if anything that happened tonight changed anything,” Banks said.
One resident claimed to have the simple solution. Put the primate sancturary at NCCC.