Written by Victoria Caruso-Davis Friday, 04 June 2010 00:00
Westbury Village is asking the Nassau County Association for the Help of Retarded Citizens (AHRC) to look elsewhere when it comes to operating another community residence for children and adults with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
Earlier this year, AHRC, a non-profit organization, entered into a contract to purchase a home on Rugby Road for the intention of operating a community residence. While sympathetic to the needs of the AHRC client population, as well as the services the agency provides, Westbury officials believe the village has “done its share to be welcoming and accommodating to persons with these and similar needs…” when compared to some neighboring communities.
According to Mayor Peter Cavallaro, the village is currently host to six community residences (three of which are operated by AHRC), including one located within three-tenths of a mile of the proposed Rugby Road home. There are also, said Cavallaro, at least 10 additional community residences, two of which are already operated by AHRC, within less than two miles of the village’s borders while no such residences currently exist in nearby Mineola or New Hyde Park.
As a result, Westbury Village, during a May 6 meeting, passed a resolution objecting to the Rugby Road home. “Our objection derives out of the sincere belief that our community has done its share and more in permitting and accommodating community residences in the past, and that other surrounding communities have not done so to the same degree as we have,” said Cavallaro, adding, “While I and the board are very sympathetic to the needs of the people whom AHRC serves, we sincerely believe that the village has been welcoming and accommodating in the past, but that to place another facility of this type in the village would be to overburden our residents, when other communities have not shared in this burden to the same degree as our residents have.”
Additionally, Cavallaro said a number of Wheatley Villa residents have expressed what he refers to as “legitimate concerns” that the establishment of a community residence on Rugby Road will change the character of the neighborhood and have an adverse affect on property values.
On May 7, the village sent letters of opposition to both the New York State (NYS) Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and AHRC’s Associate Executive Director Bob Goldsmith. The letter, which requested that the agency consider alternative sites and communities, reads in part, “… it appears that, while Westbury and the Wheatley Villa area have accommodated these residences in abundance in the past, other communities and areas have not done so … AHRC has the responsibility to site its facilities so as not to overburden any one community.”
In its opposition, village officials provided AHRC with a list of comparable homes available in neighboring Mineola and New Hyde Park and referenced New York State’s Padavan Law; under the Padavan Law, the state’s long-articulated policy is to mainstream persons with disabilities into residential settings. Additionally, Padavan Law procedures allow Westbury to object to the establishment on the basis of “over-saturation” of said residences in one specific community and ensure they are spread throughout communities so that the responsibility of integrating persons with disabilities is shared.
“It is incumbent on AHRC and similar agencies to make sure that this goal of the law is achieved. We do not believe that AHRC has done so and seeks to over-rely on communities, like Westbury, that have been accommodating in the past,” states the village’s letter of opposition.
Cavallaro added that, by establishing another community residence in Westbury, AHRC would cause yet another property to be removed from the village tax rolls, again causing Westbury’s residents to bear a disproportionate responsibility for these facilities compared to neighboring communities.
According to Goldsmith, the process the agency follows when searching for a community residence is the same as that of the average person seeking to purchase a home. “We work with multiple brokers throughout Nassau County. We went with a broker, saw a house that met the needs of the individuals we are trying to support and put in an offer. We then notified the village as required.” Goldsmith said. “We have over 75 homes all over Nassau County. We are not targeting a specific community. We are in almost every neighborhood in Nassau County.”
In a May 20 letter, John Chase, an attorney with the Glen Cove-based firm of Chase, Rathkopf and Chase, LLP representing AHRC, responded to the village’s objection. In the letter, Chase states that his client disagrees with the village’s stand that a community residence on Rugby Road would change the nature and character of the village or area surrounding the home.
Additionally, the letter states that the list of comparable homes provided by Westbury as alternative sites for the community residence is not acceptable as none of the homes suggested are within the village. As a result, the village, pursuant to NYS Mental Hygiene Law, had 15 days to “suggest one or more suitable sites within its jurisdiction” that could accommodate a community residence.
Westbury complied and provided AHRC with two alternative sites within the village’s boundaries.
While locating another community residence elsewhere within the village does not address Westbury’s main contention factor of over-saturation, Cavallaro feels the two alternative sites presented to AHRC are more suitable than the home on Rugby Road. One of the homes, said the mayor, is cheaper and its location, while still within residential areas, is not as residential as Rugby Road. Additionally, Cavallaro believes both of the alternative sites are more conveniently located and closer to transportation and other services important to AHRC’s clients.
Goldsmith told The Westbury Times that the agency is in receipt of the village’s suggestions and will be evaluating them to determine if either meets the agency’s needs. “We just want to have a home for people with developmental disabilities,” he said.
Under Padavan procedures, AHRC can request that the NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities conduct a public hearing as to the suitability of placing a home at the proposed location. While the law is intended to prevent over-saturation, Cavallaro said it also limits what local municipalities can do to prevent the establishment of said community residences. The mayor acknowledges that, in the 33 years since the law by New York State Senator Frank Padavan (R, Queens), was adopted there has yet to be a successful challenge by a municipality under the over-saturation standard.
“We cannot be certain that our objection will prevail,” said Cavallaro. “The courts have been very reluctant to allow local objections to prevent the establishment of community residences.”
A public hearing may be scheduled if AHRC objects to either of the village’s alternative sites and seek to move forward with a community residence on Rugby Road. At press time, a decision had not been rendered by AHRC.