For 17 years, Stony Brook neurobiology professor Paul Adams has carefully cultivated a hummingbird sanctuary on an oasis overlooking the Long Island Sound in Baiting Hollow, allowing guests to visit his sanctuary each August to catch a glimpse at these tiny, elusive birds.
But this August, faced with a $3 million lawsuit from his neighbors and a notice of violation from Riverhead Town, he’s asking people who come to visit him this month to tread even lighter than ever before when they come to visit him.
And, it appears, his visitors are doing just that.
Mr. Adams, who keeps a near-daily journal of the hummingbird activity at the sanctuary on his blog, bhhummer.blogspot.com (as well as, of late, updates on his legal troubles), has begun listing times that he is available to receive visitors at the sanctuary in the sidebar to the right of his blog, where people who wish to visit him must make an appointment and receive confirmation of that appointment before they arrive.
“The most important thing for people (i.e. hummingbird enthusiasts) to know is that to visit they need a confirmed appointment for one of the specific “slot” times that are announced at the blog,” said Mr. Adams in an email Aug. 6. “They can only request (by email), appointments for the specific slot times already announced, not for random times in August.”
He’s also asking everyone who visits to bring a signed and dated liability waiver with them when they visit.
“They should bear in mind that the sanctuary is basically my summer backyard, and be extremely respectful of my nice neighbors,” said Mr. Adams, adding that visitors should wear proper walking shoes, park only in designated areas, and not brig tripods or picnic baskets. He also has no public bathroom.
Last December, five of Mr. Adams’ neighbors filed a lawsuit claiming the visitors to the sanctuary interfere with the use and enjoyment of their properties and asking Mr. Adams and his son, whose name is on the deed of one of the parcels of the two-lot sanctuary, to pay $3 million in damages.
According to Mr. Adams’ blog, he is still awaiting a continuation of his preliminary court conference on the suit filed against him by his neighbors, while he’s been in email discussions with Riverhead Code Enforcement Officer Rich Downs, who recently stated in an email that the town’s main concern is the use of the undeveloped lot on the east side of the sanctuary, not the lot where Mr. Adams already has two small cottages, where he receives most of his visitors.
Mr. Adams’ former attorney, Regina Seltzer, retired not long after his first court conference in May, and he had been considering representing himself until he discovered his homeowner’s insurance policy for his home in Stony Brook would cover the Baiting Hollow lawsuit.
He has considered filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that he believes the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim in arguing that he can’t use his property as a hummingbird sanctuary.
According to the town code, Mr. Adams wrote on June 7, in his property’s residential zoning district, “no building, structure or premises shall be used or arranged or designed to be used, and no building or structure shall be hereafter erected, reconstructed or altered, unless otherwise provided in this chapter.”
“Now a bird sanctuary generally, and a hummingbird sanctuary in particular, involves no building or structure, it is simply naturally occurring open space,” he said.
In the meantime, Mr. Adams reported Aug. 6, one year nearly to the day after a Newsday article about the sanctuary sent droves of people flocking to his doorstep and setting off the ire of his neighbors, that his new system for appointments at the sanctuary has been working well.
“So far almost all requests for appointments at specific slot times have been okayed. The flow of traffic on Terry Farm Road has been low to non-existent, the rather primitive (but natural!) parking lot never even near full, and everyone very respectful, enjoyable and/or interesting!),” he wrote. “It has been particularly delightful to see old friends and make a few new ones.”