BY BILL WOLCOTT
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — WILSON — Carmen Presti’s bid to bring a primate sanctuary to the Town of Wilson received lots of attention in 2008. Wilson-Youngstown Road neighbors were strongly against. Fans of Charlie the Chimp and Presti’s neighbors in Niagara Falls voiced support.
The town board let the issue go away. Now, it’s back.
Presti has requested a special-use permit to construct a primate sanctuary and education facility on his property at 2850 Wilson-Youngstown Road and a Zoning Board public hearing is planned for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Hall.
The primate petition is No. 9 on the agenda, so the five members of the Zoning Board of Appeals may be in for a long night. “We’ll have to consider everyone,” Chairman Douglas Thompson said.
Presti’s exotic animals have been a favorite at area functions and his “Karate Chimp” has been photographed with Jay Leno, Chuck Norris, Billy Joel, Howie Mandel and Whoopie Goldberg. The monkey has been in movies.
But, six years ago, folks near Wilson-Youngstown Road didn’t want primates in their neighborhood. Residents expressed concern that the primates are dangerous, smelly, noisy and could depreciate property value.
The issue resurfaced when an alligator was found in a Wilson creek. Town Attorney Kyle Andrews was put to work on its first local law regarding special permits and variances for exotic animals. The local law was passed this year, meaning the town now has guidelines concerning nontraditional animals. That gave Presti parameters to work with, and the opportunity to apply for a variance.
The Planning Board passed Presti’s request along to the Zoning Board after its April 8 meeting. Zoning Board members received the request this week, according to Thompson. Presti’s request is detailed, several pages long and includes drawings.
“He’s closer to getting it,” Supervisor Joe Jastrzemski said of Presti’s chances. “The Zoning Board with have the last say...There’s a number of things coming into it.”
The board members must study the plans, but cannot discuss it together until the meeting, according to Thompson. The board can require Presti to modify his plans, and he’ll be required to abide by rules.
”Carmen’s got a lot of support,” Jastrzemski said. “He’s made primates his life. When you think of what he does, it’s remarkable ... In Niagara Falls he does a tremendous job. The area is cleaned and cared for. He’s a good man and has done a lot of nice things for the community.”
The supervisor added, “Personally, I think I would give it to him. He’s done an admirable job.”
Animals already have a presence in the neighborhood. Jastrzemski and Thompson both noted that there is a dairy farm with about 1,500 cows across the road.
Carmen and his wife Christie Presti have been operating the sanctuary since 1990. They own 30 acres of farm land and built a new $325,000 home on the site. They are hoping to move their chimps, monkeys and exotic birds from Livingston Avenue to better living quarters.