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Tammie Topel

6,000-square-foot home would be built on Cuba Hill Road in Greenlawn

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport advocate and Cuba Hill Road residents will have additional time to reach an understanding over a proposed Greenlawn adult home.

Huntington Town Board voted to unanimously Jan. 3 to extend the time to make a decision on whether K.I.D.S. Plus Inc. should receive a special use permit to operate an adult home off Cuba Hill Road for those with physical and developmental disabilities age 21 and over.

Dozens of residents have spoken up with concerns about the proposed 6,000 square-foot building since the town’s Oct. 17 public hearing, citing concerns about traffic, landscaping, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam in October, 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.”

Cuba Hill resident John Wilson presented the town with a petition signed by approximately 30 residents at their Jan. 3 meeting.

“One of the conditions is it shouldn’t change the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “This neighborhood is a section of Cuba Hill Road between Manor and Little Plains Road, that isn’t very built up. The houses are generally on more than an acre.”

A conceptual sketch of the interior layout of K.I.D.S. Plus proposed Greenlawn home for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. Rendering from K.I.D.S. Plus.

K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Murphy Topel, a Northport resident, said she has hosted two community meetings since October 2017 to hear and address the Greenlawn residents’ concerns, in addition to one-on-one meetings. Based on their feedback, Murphy Topel said she’s made revisions to her proposed building plans.

“We want to know what’s going on in the community, we want to be good neighbors,” she said. “We don’t want to be adversarial in any way.”

One of the most cited issues, according to Murphy Topel, was the appearance of the originally planned 26-foot-wide driveway for vehicles. After speaking with Huntington officials, changes have been made to narrow that to 20 feet, the width of a standard two-car
garage, according to Murphy Topel.

She said significant work has been put into the landscaping of the outside of the building, sharing an artistic rendering showing a variety of indigenous trees planted postconstruction to help obscure view of the building from Cuba Hill Road and its neighbors. The outdoor lighting will feature gooseneck barn lamps to direct the light downward instead of out, according to
Murphy Topel, with some subtle ground lighting along the driveway.

Murphy Topel hopes to share these new renderings and changes with concerned Greenlawn residents at a community meeting set for Jan. 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Harborfields Public Library. She said she has invited all town board members, town planning officials and any residents.

One thing she won’t consider is downsizing the 6,000-square-foot size of the home featuring suites for eight individuals, she said, which is all one level.

“These are people with disabilities looking at this as a forever home,” Murphy Topel said. “We are looking into the future when there will be ambulatory issues. We don’t want them to be navigating stairs.”

Even the K.I.D.S. Plus founder had to admit though, the parcel she purchased  on Cuba Hill Road is less than ideal for constructing the home, due to its hilly nature, the amount of grading and retaining walls that will be required.

“By designation in the [town] code, we have to have a two-acre piece of property and in the town of Huntington, there’s not a whole lot of two-acre pieces of property that are affordable,” Murphy Topel said. “If someone else can find me a two-acre piece of property for $400,000, I would take it, flip this land and build elsewhere.”

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

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.

New Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer is sworn in on July 1. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Change is in the air at Northport-East Northport schools.

School board Trustee Andrew Rapiejko, a five-year incumbent who served as vice president, was sworn in as the board’s president at its reorganizational meeting on Wednesday, following a nomination by departing president, Julia Binger, and an 8-1 vote. Trustee Regina Pisacani was the lone vote against the appointment.

David Badanes take oaths of office. Photo by Rohma Abbas
David Badanes take oaths of office. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Newly re-elected Trustee David Badanes was nominated and voted vice president of the board — but not without an unsuccessful attempt by Pisacani to nominate newcomer Trustee David Stein to the slot. Her motion to do so failed to gain support, and Badanes was unanimously appointed.

The July 1 meeting was the district’s first with new Superintendent Robert Banzer at the helm. Banzer, along with Stein, recently re-elected Trustee Tammie Topel, Badanes, District Clerk Beth Nystrom and new audit committee member Edward Kevorkian were all officially sworn in.

In his remarks to the community, Rapiejko called it a “critical year” for the district, and pointedly addressed what he called a divide on the board.

“The elephant in the room is this split on the board,” he said

Tammie Topel is sworn in. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Tammie Topel is sworn in. Photo by Rohma Abbas

While the board typically votes unanimously on most items, Rapiejko said in a Thursday phone interview that the community perceives a divide on the school board. Those differences among board members have given rise to tensions that began under the administration of former Superintendent Marylou McDermott, he said.

“The former superintendent is out of the equation now,” he said in his speech on Wednesday. “And I’m looking forward and to move on. I think we have to move forward and it’s critical we do that.”

He urged the school community to respect each other and said it is the board’s responsibility to set that tone of respect. In a phone interview, he said he was heartened that his appointment earned almost unanimous support, which hasn’t been the norm at reorganizational meetings in recent years past.

“We can disagree, we can have very strong opinions, but there’s a way to do it and a way to do it respectfully,” he said.

Change is in the air at Northport-East Northport schools.

School board Trustee Andrew Rapiejko, a five-year incumbent who served as vice president, was sworn in as the board’s president at its reorganizational meeting on Wednesday, following a nomination by President Julia Binger and an 8-1 vote. Trustee Regina Pisacani was the lone vote against the appointment.

Newly re-elected Trustee David Badanes was nominated and voted vice president of the board — but not without an unsuccessful attempt by Pisacani to nominate newcomer Trustee David Stein to the slot. Her motion to do so failed to gain support, and Badanes was unanimously appointed.

The July 1 meeting was the district’s first with new Superintendent Robert Banzer at the helm. Banzer, along with Stein, recently re-elected Trustee Tammie Topel, Badanes, District Clerk Beth Nystrom and new audit committee member Edward Kevorkian were all officially sworn in.

In his remarks to the community, Rapiejko called it a “critical year” for the district, and pointedly addressed what he called a divide on the board.

“The elephant in the room is this split on the board,” he said

While the board typically votes unanimously on most items, Rapiejko said in a Thursday phone interview that the community perceives a divide on the school board. Those differences among board members have given rise to tensions that began under the administration of former Superintendent Marylou McDermott, he said.

“The former superintendent is out of the equation now,” he said in his speech on Wednesday. “And I’m looking forward and to move on. I think we have to move forward and it’s critical we do that.”

He urged the school community to respect each other and said it is the board’s responsibility to set that tone of respect. In a phone interview, he said he was heartened that his appointment earned almost unanimous support, which hasn’t been the norm at reorganizational meetings in recent years past.

“We can disagree, we can have very strong opinions, but there’s a way to do it and a way to do it respectfully.”

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