Mayfield may be able to remove big cats

MAYFIELD – Town officials may be able to remove tigers and leopards from a man’s property after a recent court decision denied his petition to annul a zoning board decision.

Steven Salton has been involved in a legal battle to keep his large cats since 2011, after town Code Enforcement Officer Mike Stewart determined Salton was involved in a unlawful home occupation. Salton contended his operation is an educational exhibit, not a business, because he gives tours by appointment and does not charge a fee or display any signs.

In a decision handed down by Fulton County Supreme Court Judge Richard T. Aulisi on Friday, the court rejected Salton’s appeal of a town Zoning Board of Appeals decision denying Salton a variance that would let him keep the large cats.

According to Aulisi’s decision, in May 2013, Salton, a town resident, sought a variance from the town Zoning Board of Appeals, but was denied because the board did not have authority to hear his request.

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Town Attorney Carmel Greco said Salton did not go to Stewart first, which was procedure.

Salton filed an appeal of the zoning board’s decision in October.

According to Aulisi’s ruling, the zoning board did not have authority to hear the request because Stewart was not spoken to first.

Furthermore, the ruling said, since Salton waited until October to file an appeal, he was well outside the statute of limitations.

Greco said Monday that Salton and his attorney, Christian Soller, could appeal Aulisi’s decision.

Soller did not return calls seeking comment.

Salton could not be reached for comment.

Greco said a cease-and-desist order that had been stayed pending the appeal could come back into effect, and could be enforced immediately.

Greco said Monday he planned to meet with Stewart to discuss the case.

Stewart said this morning he could not comment on the case – or any actions the town could take -because he has not spoken with Greco yet.

The court ruling is the latest decision in a three-year court battle between Salton and the town.

Salton filed an Article 78 petition in state Supreme Court in Johnstown in February 2012, seeking an overturn of a Zoning Board’s decision that he was running a home operation.

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.

In April, the Third Judicial Department of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division upheld a decision by Aulisi to dismiss a petition from Salton arguing his animals were not part of a business.