By Kevin Redding

A group home for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities is heading to Henearly Drive in Miller Place, but some residents on the block are up in arms over the purchase.

The group home will be the most recent in a string of homes across Suffolk County set up by the Smithtown-based Developmental Disabilities Institute, and will house six  low-functioning autistic  adults over 21 years old, as well as three full-time staff members.

The establishment will function as a place to call home for those with disabilities who have aged out of the nonprofit’s  residential programs for children.

DDI’s director of development, Dan Rowland, said the company went into contract May 23 to buy the house at 73 Henearly Drive for redevelopment.

“It’s a family neighborhood. It’s just very upsetting the amount of traffic it’s going to bring. They’re going to create a nuisance.”

— Janice Simon

Despite speculation of turning the entire front yard into a parking lot, he said there is only a plan in place to widen the property’s driveway to accommodate four vehicles for employees and visitors, and rules will be put in place for the home’s residents to keep neighbors at ease. The parking will also accommodate minivans used to transport group home residents anywhere they need to go in the community.

Residents near the property said the new development will disrupt the community’s quality of life, pointing to staff members entering and exiting the property as potential risk for an increase in traffic and safety hazards in the area — which, they said, is predominantly quiet, peaceful and occupied by children.

“It doesn’t make any sense why you would put this in the middle of a nice neighborhood, how is that fair?” said Henearly Drive resident Janice Simon, who is worried there will be a congestion of vehicles and possible dumpsters in the street around the property, where children currently play.

“Everyone deserves a place to live, but you don’t just disrupt what we have,” she said. “It’s nice, it’s a family neighborhood. It’s just very upsetting the amount of traffic it’s going to bring. They’re going to create a nuisance.”

A letter sent out by DDI’s director of adult services Aug. 18 invited residents living within 500 feet of the property to an information session to discuss the group home, and how the organization operates, at the Comsewogue Public Library Aug. 29.

Following the meeting, a letter circulated among neighbors addressing concerns surrounding the group home and urging them to contact community leaders if they oppose it.

“This block has enough traffic on it,” the letter titled “Attention Neighbors” read. “We do not want people rushing to get to work driving down this block that is very populated to begin with.  … Although we are not begrudging the residents the ability to live in a group home, we feel that the choice of 73 Henearly in the middle of a highly populated block is not the right one.”

A resident on the block, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed.

The home purchased by the Developmental Disabilites Institute is located on the corner of Willmington Street and Henearly Drive in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

“That’s the main concern,” the resident said. “It’s not who’s going to be living there or what type of people are going to be living there, but the increased traffic and the effect on home values, opening a business in the middle of a very quiet neighborhood. I just think putting it in a busier area like Miller Place-Yaphank Road would be more appropriate.”

However, Rowland expressed objection to the home being seen as an imposing business.

“Just because people are providing services in the home for someone who needs it doesn’t make it a business … this is a home,” Rowland said.

According to the director, the organization has launched more than 30 group homes throughout townships in Suffolk and Nassau counties, including Brookhaven and Islip,  and many of them sit in residential neighborhoods.

He said, in choosing a location for its group homes, DDI works alongside the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities in Albany to gauge the amount of care facilities in a town — including other group homes, hospitals, vocational centers and nursing homes — to ensure it won’t be opening a home in an area that is oversaturated.

The house at 73 Henearly Drive was chosen because of the surrounding neighborhood, the features of the structure and its suitability to house the six adults, Rowland said, adding that the individuals who will live there deserve a home in a safe community as opposed to being confined inside an institution.

“We understand that people are going to be uncomfortable with the idea of something like this being introduced to their neighborhood, and we’re sympathetic to the viewpoints of the neighbors in the neighborhood we’re moving into, but we also have to protect the rights of the people we care for,” Rowland said. “We hope to overcome their discomfort with it by demonstrating that we can, and will be, good neighbors with everybody.”

In response to those on Henearly Drive anticipating a neighborhood eyesore in the group home, the director of development said the 55-year-old nonprofit’s track record speaks for itself.

“We keep them looking good, we maintain them and we respect the neighborhood values in terms of noise or any sensitivity of increased traffic,” he said.

“Group homes don’t have quality of life problems. There’s no loud music, there’s no speeding and no unkept properties. And what about the people who need the services? What about their quality of life? They’re human beings.”

— Jane Bonner

Dawn McCarthy, president of the Miller Place Special Education Support Group, said she doesn’t see the home as a blight on the neighborhood either.

“I don’t think it’s going to interrupt quality of life at all,” McCarthy said. “Miller Place has a fairly decent-sized population of autistic children. I wonder how residents would feel if it was their children’s home. I can’t imagine it’s going to have an impact on anyone’s resale value.”

An anonymous resident expressed concern over a purported risk of individuals leaving the home at night, which she said is why the residence will be electronically locked and equipped with alarms.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) called the opposition to the group home disheartening.

“I’ve explained to everybody, and this is the truth, that in almost 10 years in office, I have never ever had a problem with a group home in my council district,” Bonner said. “Group homes don’t have quality of life problems. There’s no loud music, there’s no speeding and no unkept properties. And what about the people who need the services? What about their quality of life? They’re human beings.”

Henearly Drive resident Janine Biancaniello made it clear her opposition was aimed at the group home’s employees and not its six individuals.

“When I come home from work, my home is my safe haven,” Biancaniello said.“I don’t want strangers up and down my block, 500 times, people I don’t know coming and going all day and night … [with] everybody outside smoking and on their phones and hanging out — no way — it doesn’t work like that. We’re going to have to pay their taxes while our property values go down. They’re going to change our way of life.”

The group home is protected under the Padavan law, which allows group homes to supersede local zoning as long as they meet state codes.

DDI said it is uncertain at this time when the group home will open.

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