Tiger owner loses court appeal

MAYFIELD – A town man who owns tigers and leopards says he will seek a variance from the town Planning Board as the next step in a three-year battle with the town to keep his big cats.

The Third Judicial Department of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division on Thursday said state Supreme Court Justice Richard T.?Aulisi was correct in dismissing a petition from Steven A. Salton, who had been arguing the town Zoning Board was incorrect in determining his animals were part of a business.

The ruling means Salton has 30 days to remove the animals, Town Attorney Carmel Greco said.

Salton’s attorney, Christian J.?Soller of Hodgson Russ, said in an email Thursday that Salton will now seek a variance from the town Planning Board, which has to approve all home businesses.

Salton owns three tigers and two leopards under an operation called Natasha’s Helping Hand. Salton has an exhibitor license, which requires the animals to be on public display, but he has maintained that the animals at his Route 30 home are not a business.

He has said he shows the animals by appointment only, and that donations pay for their food.

But town Code Enforcement Officer Mike Stewart disagreed, saying in 2011 that Salton’s animals constitute a home business, and the Zoning Board of Appeals agreed, saying the town Planning Board would need to approve Salton’s operation as a home occupation for him to keep the cats at his Route 30 property.

Salton filed an Article 78 petition in state Supreme Court in Johnstown in February 2012, seeking an overturn of the Zoning Board’s decision. Aulisi’s ruling in December 2012 said the Zoning Board’s decision was “supported by a rational basis and by substantial evidence,” including Salton’s exhibitor license, a state permit application, business cards and website listing a business named Natasha’s Helping Hand.

According to public records, Salton and his wife, Cynthia, filed for a business certificate in 2008 but filed a dissolution of business notice in 2011, saying the operation was “residential, not commercial.”

The town’s zoning law said home occupations are defined as businesses where the owner resides on the property and where the activities of the business are conducted.

Soller said Salton was “profoundly disappointed” by Thursday’s decision, but he’ll pursue the Planning Board variance.

Neighbors have complained about the noise and potential danger posed by the proximity to the animals.

Salton was sued by two neighbors last year who say his animals have diminished the value of their land and caused the sale of two of their lots to fall through. A trial for that case is set for June, according to the public court calendar.

Soller says there are no facilities that Salton can leave his animals with in the area.