Greenlawn residents rallied before Huntington Town officials Oct. 17 seeking answers to their questions about proposed plans for a group home on Cuba Hill Road.
More than a dozen community members spoke out at the town board meeting in which the Northport-based nonprofit K.I.D.S. Plus presented plans for an 8,000-square-foot group home for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Residents raised concerns about traffic, noise, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area, but ultimately found themselves with more questions than answers.
“I’m really trying hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction of not in my backyard,” said Manan Shah, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner. “We want to be partners. We want to understand. But to ask us to give you an 8,000-square-foot home without giving us information is unfair.”
Sergio Gallardo, of Greenlawn, said the Cuba Hill Road residents weren’t given an opportunity to speak with K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Topel to learn what types of disabilities the home’s residents would have or review the business plans.
“We assumed you would have sat down with the people who live in the area prior to this hearing,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
Topel, a Northport resident and member of the Northport school district’s board of education, is a well-known advocate for children with special needs as she has spoken publicly on several occasions about her son, Brandon, who is diagnosed with autism. She explained her “dream” plan is to build a group home for eight adults, 21 years of age and older, on the 2-acre wooded lot. The house would have an administrator/coordinator on site 24/7 to oversee the health and safety of residents in addition to a rotating staff of specialists and caregivers based on individual residents’ needs, according to Topel.
“There is a waiting list in New York state of greater than 11,000 people who need homes and we are trying to mitigate the problem,” she said. “We are trying to provide assistance for parents of children, young adults and adults who need a supportive independent place to live.”
However, residents were quick to point out that the K.I.D.S. Plus home would not be the first facility of its type in community.
“Within a half-mile of my home in any direction, and my neighbors as well, there are three group homes already — this would be a fourth,” said William Whitcomb, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner of 10 years. “Regardless of the nature of the residents, four is simply too much.”
Another major concern voiced repeatedly was the proposed size of the group home in comparison to the existing homes. Neighbors expressed fears that it would alter the area’s character, giving it a more commercial feel.
“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”
Jules Smilow, a resident of Darryl Lane, expressed sympathy, saying that a group home that was more commensurate in size to the existing residences would be more agreeable.
Many Greenlawn property owners, including Rebecca Gutierrez and Stephen Wuertz, pointed to the three existing group homes in the area with concerns of noise from handicapped transportation and delivery trucks, increased traffic and possible behavior incidents involving future residents.
“I think one of the things that is happening here is some people don’t know what disability looks like and what it is all about,” said George Wurzer, a licensed clinical social worker.
Wurzer said he operates a number of group homes for children diagnosed with autism. While many were met by resistance from their surrounding communities at first, he said that over time there was more acceptance and the neighbors learned more about developmental disabilities from the experience.
“Tammie’s vision is the next evolutionary stage in helping people with disabilities,” Wurzer said.
Petrone admitted it was, in part, the town’s fault that residents did not have critical information to fairly evaluate the group home proposal. He directed Anthony Aloisio, the director of planning and environment, to arrange for a community meeting between residents and Topel.
Topel has posted a proposed blueprint of the building on the K.I.D.S. Plus Facebook page. There are several upcoming public meetings to provide those interested with more information Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Signature Premier Properties in East Northport, and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga.