Niagara Gazette

January 30, 2008

PRIMATE SANCTUARY: Falls neighbors approve; Wilson residents wary

By Bill Wolcott/wolcottb@gnnewspaper.com

WILSON — Carmen Presti’s neighbors in mid-city Niagara Falls hope he keeps his monkeys and exotic birds in the yellow brick building on Livingston Avenue.

However, the 26 primates and assorted birds are crammed in the former store, and he hopes to give them more room in a primate sanctuary in Wilson. The Youngstown and Fitch Road neighbors are against it and have voiced their objections to the board.

“I think the people in Wilson are just being prejudiced. I really do. They just don’t want them there, and it’s nonsense,” said Dorothy Bowers, a grandmother who lives on Livingston across the street. “They are animals, and people love the animals. We go look at them. My grandkids love them. I love them, and we don’t want anything to happen to them.”

Latisha Hall, who lives nearby said, “My 12-year old daughter comes here all the time. They have them outside and let you touch them, the little ones and big ones. They are no problem to the neighborhood, none whatsoever.”

Presti, who is a Wilson taxpayer, will meet with the Wilson Town Board on Wednesday hoping he can allay property-owner fears. “It’s safe,” he said. “These animals are wonderful animals. You fear what you don’t know ... They need bigger digs, and that’s what we’re going to do out here.”

Presti said that he came to Wilson in 2001 before he bought the property and felt there would be no problem. In 2006, he talked to zoning board.

Opponents are concerned with the safety, the noise, the smell, the pollution and that Presti will not pay taxes.

“It concerns me as well,” Supervisor Joe Jastrzemski said. “I do know he would like to be tax-exempt. I don’t have a problem of him being tax-exempt himself, but if he would like to put up a 12,000-square-foot building, my contention is, he’s got to pay taxes on it.”

Paul Proulx, a Town of Wilson resident who recently sold his last piece of property in Niagara Falls, feels that decision for Presti to come to Wilson is up to Presti.

“I see no problem with him moving here,” said Proulx, who has owned Tropic Cove pet stores on Military Road and Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls. “The kids love going to see his animals. You see them standing around the building looking in.”

The windows were a bit steamed and soiled on Tuesday. The property around the building was clean. Inside, there were caged birds in the front and chimps a back little deeper, peering out, perhaps looking for attention. There’s a chain-link fence inside for the bigger primates.

Neighbors don’t go inside the building.

“I don’t want them to move,” Bowers said. “It’s a pleasure to have them across the street. They don’t make noise, the kids on the street make more noise than they do. You can barely here them. In the summer, when the door is open, you can’t smell anything. They’re quiet, they’re clean. What more can you ask of a neighbor?”

Presti will bring the monkeys outside and let neighbors take pictures. Charlie the Karate Chimp and Kiko are celebrities who have appeared on television, advertisements and movies.

“The man is quality. He’s into it,” said Proulx, who was interviewed at the Wilson House. “He does it right. He gives them the right foods, medical care. Clean. I have nothing to bad to say about the man and I’ve been in the industry 25 years. He takes very good care of his animals.”

Proulx added, “There’s nobody in that neighborhood who dislikes him or disrespects him, or thinks that his facility is not good for the community. He’s a very nice gentleman. He deserves any break he can get.”

Contact reporter Bill Wolcott at 439-9222, Ext. 6246.