Judge rules against tiger owner


Recorder News Staff

JOHNSTOWN -- An exotic cat owner's lawsuit against the Mayfield Zoning Board of Appeals was dismissed Friday by a Supreme Court judge who earlier this year made him file an application to display his tigers and leopards -- an application that was denied last month.

Because the application was denied, Steven A. Salton, of 3420 state Route 30, must file for an appeal within 30 days, or he'll likely be served a cease and desist order, said town Attorney Carm Greco.

Salton owns and displays three Bengal tigers and a pair of leopards at his residence, under the business name Natasha's Helping Hand. Fulton County Supreme Court Judge Richard T. Aulisi's judgment affirms the town Zoning Board of Appeals October 2011 ruling that Salton's business requires application to the town Planning Board.

"The town is pleased in that the code enforcement officer's initial decision withstood appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals, and an attack in state Supreme Court," Greco said.

Greco said the town Planning Board denied Salton's application because the use wasn't permitted under the town's comprehensive plan, and is not afforded under the town's zoning law.

Greco has since drafted a local law on exotic animal exhibition for town officials' review, though he denies that it was drafted specifically for Salton's circumstance. He said it hasn't been formally introduced.

"In a way, the Salton case reminded the town that it's zoning law did not address this issue, and it was about time we do something about it," Greco said.

Town Code Enforcement Officer Michael Stewart notified Salton in June 2011 he was operating an unauthorized "home occupation" business in a residentially-zoned area, and that he'd have to apply for a permit.

Salton then appealed to the zoning board, and in October 2011, after two public hearings, the zoning board upheld Stewart's ruling.

Aulisi's decision states the court may set aside a local zoning board's rule only when the record reveals the board acted illegally.

"It appears to the court that [the zoning board's] determination in this matter is supported by a rational basis and by substantial evidence," Aulisi wrote in his decision.

He cited case law that says a reviewing court should not substitute its own judgment for zoning board's judgment, "even if the court would have decided the matter differently."

Calls to Salton and his attorney, Paul Wollman, were not returned Wednesday.

The town's zoning laws define home occupation as businesses where the owner resides on the property, and where the activities of the business are conducted inside the residence, a legally constructed accessory building, or at off-site locations."

The evidence the zoning board used to make that determination included Salton's Class C Exhibitor license from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the application to DEC, which lists Natasha's Helping Hand as the name of his business; Salton's business cards which bore the name Natasha's Helping Hand and included a fee schedule, and the board heard testimony from neighbors describing the activities on his property.

According to the DEC, Salton's permits are contingent on the fact that he uses the animals for exhibition purposes. Salton previously told the Recorder he takes appointments by phone, and shows off the cats for a "donation" of $10 for adults and $6 for children.