Bird lovers throughout Long Island have spent the weekend getting organized to protect the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, which is facing a $3 million lawsuit from neighbors who want it to close and a notice of code violation from Riverhead Town.
The Soundfront sanctuary, an oasis of plants that provide exceptional nutrition for hummingbirds, has been open to the public free of charge during the month of August for 17 years, but a hummingbird sanctuary is not listed by the town code as an acceptable use of the property, which is in a residential area. A hummingbird sanctuary is not listed as an unacceptable use of the property either.
The lawsuit, which asks sanctuary owner Paul Adams to stop operating the sanctuary and to pay $3 million in damages, was filed in December by neighbors Kamal and Sabita Bherwani, who bought the property next door for $1.35 million last August; Frederick and Debra Terry, the former owners of the Bherwanis’ property; and Shawn Hamilton, who purchased another neighboring property for $950,000 in 2009 along with John Hamilton.
Mr. Adams, who is a professor of neurobiology at Stony Brook University, said on his blog, on Jan. 3 that, not long after he arrived in his winter home in the Bahamas on Dec. 30, he received a phone call informing him that a summons from his neighbors had been placed on his doorstep. He said there are 47 complaints in the lawsuit, but most boil down to two main points:
“1. Does the Town Code permit me to maintain my property in a natural state as a bird (specifically hummingbird) sanctuary? 2. Does the Code permit me to receive invited visitors at my residence there, via the established, deeded and surveyed Right of Way from Sound Ave?,” he wrote.
“Unless I am completely deluded (which is quite possible, especially after the pressure of the events of this year!), the answer to both of these questions is clearly yes, in which case both of these actions collapse,” he added.
Mr. Adams, who does not charge admission to visitors to the sanctuary, said his property was inundated with visitors in August of 2013 after Newsday ran an article about the preserve without informing him, forcing him to briefly close the preserve to keep traffic down.
The sanctuary has a loyal following among birders throughout the island, however, and they’ve mobilized this weekend after learning about the lawsuit and the code viloation.
A new Facebook page called Friends of the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary was formed on Saturday and nearly 400 people had signed a change.org petition asking Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter to protect the sanctuary as of midday Monday.
“Please keep this sanctuary open, because deep down in your heart, you know it’s the right thing to do… as an elected official, you know, sometimes, it’s not about what the people “want” but about what people “need,”” said Joann Modica of East Marion on the change.org petition page. “Please do what’s best for the birds who have no voice? I ask of you to exercise empathy for the smaller things that really matter. Thank you.”
“It is the only sanctuary for hummingbirds on the island,” said Debra Merritt of Center Moriches. “I can’t imagine what suffering this is causing the neighbors. As they cross the sound, the hummingbirds need a place to land that has an abundance of their natural plants available to them. Please reconsider this – especially the town of Riverhead. They should be ashamed.”
“I grew up in the area and my mom had taken me to the sanctuary on a number of occasions,” said Andrew Lichtenberger of Las Vegas. “I can honestly say that spending time at the sanctuary and conversing with Paul about birds and their nature, as well as our own, has changed my life for the better in a not so subtle way.”
Mr. Adams thanked his supporters for their work on their Facebook page Monday morning.
“Thanks everyone for your stories, pictures and support – and thanks especially to the organizers of this Facebook page!” he wrote. “I’m still discussing with various lawyers how best to defend the sanctuary against this coordinated 2-prong attack (by the Town and by some neighbors), but if any readers of this page have suggestions about ways to get legal help, please let me know.”
If you’d like to get a feel for the preserve without adding to the volume of visitors, Faith Krinsky posted this video of the sanctuary on YouTube in 2009: