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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We are one of the loudest families on the block, and there are only four of us when we’re all home. Well, five, if you count the dog, and you should definitely count the dog.

Every so often, my dog gets on one of his benders where the entire neighborhood has to hear him. He races into the backyard and barks at shadows that my eyes, and the eyes of my son, who runs to the back door and turns on the light, can’t see either.

Every neighbor presents his or her unique challenges to a block where we continue to spend a large percentage of our time. There’s the guy who drives too fast. We all glare at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He probably can’t see us because he’s moving too quickly and exists in a different space-time continuum. Don’t you love a word like continuum that dares to have two “u’s” in a row?

Then there’s the neighbor whose house is under constant construction. No matter what season, time of the month, or time of day, construction people are always there, digging, pulling, pushing, installing, removing, re-laying, resurfacing, ripping up, putting back down.

Who needs all that continuous fixing? I don’t even live in their house and I’m exhausted by the constant change. Sure, it’d be nice if that bulb above my wife’s head in our bedroom actually worked, but my arms are too short on the ladder and the bed is in the wrong place. I put my son on my shoulders and he reached up and turned, but the bulb and the fixture kept spinning.

On the other side, we have a lovely neighbor who is so nice that even the people who frown at the bunnies and deer, which prance through our neighborhood as if they were responding to a cue from a Disney director, smile at her. Her smile and laughter seem like a starter’s gun, waiting for a small cue to explode to the surface.

Anyway, the rest of her family is friendly enough, but doesn’t share her ebullience. They do, however, love their cars. The louder the sound, the more impressive the car, or so it seems. Their driveway hosts regular revving contests. Okay, how many columns have words with two consecutive “u’s” and two consecutive “v’s” in them? Revving continuum, anyone?

Somehow, despite the constant cacophony from the driveway, their house attracts an abundance of magnificent birds, even when they use the leaf blower to keep their immaculate backyard free of the few leaves with the temerity to fall on their property.

Then there is the talker. She’s incredibly sweet, insightful and intelligent. The two challenges are that the polite banter doesn’t seem to have a natural end, and she is so soft spoken that I find myself nodding and raising my eyebrows, hoping I’m offering the proper response to questions I can’t hear. I can’t move closer to her because we react to people as if they were porcupines, with six foot quills.

Then there are the adorables. These are the families that have young children who giggle, laugh and play, blissfully unfocused on the pandemic and thrilled that they are out on a bike or that they can identify a bird that passed overhead. They race each other on tiny bikes, ask me why I’m wearing the same sweatshirt again, and skip to the sound of music I can’t hear. They also see the nonstop trucks delivering materials to the construction house as a source of entertainment. One of our young neighbors was on her way to school on a recent morning. Her mother stopped her car and rolled down the window so she could tell me about Mrs. Cathy and Ms. Mary. Those happy adorables are the block winners.

Developmental Disabilities Institute and a homeowner are currently under contract for the nonprofit to buy a Setauket home for six young adults with autism and developmental disabilities. Photo from Zillow

Residents on one cul-de-sac in Setauket and its surrounding streets aren’t putting out their welcome mats for potential future neighbors.

Smithtown-based Developmental Disabilities Institute is currently under contract to buy a house on Cynthia Court. DDI plans to use it as a residential home for six young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. On July 16, the nonprofit invited residents from Cynthia Court and Sherry Drive to an informational meeting at The Setauket Neighborhood House to allow them to familiarize themselves with the organization. Tables were set up where attendees could ask DDI representatives questions regarding renovations to the home required to convert it from a four-bedroom to six-bedroom home, safety concerns and other issues.

Kim Kubasek, DDI associate executive director, said when looking for the ideal house, the organization works with real estate agents who are familiar with the size and style homes DDI needs, and then the residential development coordinator reviews the listings and screens out those that are too close to other group homes to avoid saturation in a neighborhood.

DDI held an informational meeting for residents, below, July 15 at The Setauket Neighborhood House. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“The house in Setauket was one of approximately two dozen that our team considered after screening the multiple listings,” Kubasek said. “Considerations include square footage, property size, the amount of off-street parking possible at the home, the layout of bedrooms and living space, the proximity to hospitals, day programs, recreational opportunities, the fair market value of the house and many other factors. The cost of the house and the potential cost of renovations are also factors we consider since we must work within the allowable budget for such development.”

At the July 16 meeting, traffic concerns and safety issues were on the forefront of the minds of the majority of residents who attended, which also included those living on streets surrounding Cynthia and Sherry. Many believed the home would be better suited for a through street instead of one that only has one way in and out. A number said they had no issues with the individuals who would live there.

A few residents who live on Cynthia Court said the families in the cul-de-sac can be found regularly riding bikes, throwing frisbees, walking dogs and even out with sleds in the snow, especially the children. Others pointed out that DDI may be a nonprofit but it’s still a business with employees, and they were concerned that staff members would be going back and forth all day in their cars and this would cause a safety issue for the children playing outside.

Kubasek said DDI is planning to do its best to create a good amount of off-street parking and the house has a garage. She said the organization is also proposing to expand the driveway and create a parking area behind the house.

During the day and night shifts, there will be three or four staff members each shift, and the night staff consists of two people, according to Kubasek. During the day, staff members including a nurse or behavioral therapist may stop by.

“We do a lot of training around vehicle safety and around being a considerate neighbor and being a good neighbor.”

Kim Kubasek

“We really instill in our staff a sense of pride in that area,” she said. “We do a lot of training around vehicle safety and around being a considerate neighbor and being a good neighbor.”

Penelope Drive resident Ed Hill said this isn’t the first incident where people in the neighborhood have felt they have been imposed upon. He said residents have encountered issues with visitors to Sunrise of East Setauket, a senior living home parking cars along  Hills Drive, which is how residents on Cynthia Court access the development. He said there are more cars than usual during holidays on the street, and when it snows, it’s hard for plows to clean. He said he also felt the DDI home in the neighborhood would lower property values.

“A home is a lifetime investment,” Hill said. “So now homeowners are not going to get the full value of what their house is worth because this is next to it.”

Hill and others said they worry if the young men living in the house will act out since they have developmental disabilities.

Kubasek said the clients are not violent, and DDI staff members actually worry about them.

“In many ways they don’t have that sense of safety that they should have as young adults,” Kubasek said. “We try to instill that in them but also be there to protect them while we’re teaching the day-to-day life skills they need.”

She said in other houses DDI residents attend block parties, and in the S-Section neighborhood in Stony Brook, they go to the neighborhood clubhouse and they participate in activities.

Domenick Giordano, who lives on Penelope Drive, said he felt it was going to negatively affect the whole community and encouraged his neighbors to speak to their elected officials.

“I expect all of our elected officials to fight this to the very end,” Giordano said. “They’re shoving this down our mouths.”

In a phone interview, Kevin Long, a Setauket resident and former DDI board member, said he was unable to attend the meeting due to a prior commitment but wished he had. Long’s 16-year-old son Timmy has both autism and Down syndrome. His son needs help with eating, prompts to go to the bathroom and help with bathing himself and brushing his teeth. While he and his wife are able to take care of his son at home, Long said one day when they are older they may need a DDI group home for him.

“I expect all of our elected officials to fight this to the very end.”

Domenick Giordano

“As a parent with a child who cannot function independently, knowing that there is an option where my son can live in a home in a loving environment with some of his peers with specially trained professionals, and they are highly trained, means a lot,” Long said.

He said there is a good deal of state regulation when it comes to the group homes in terms of the amount of training and vetting of the staff. From his experience, he said the DDI homes are well maintained, and the clients are good neighbors and not violent. He said some may have self-injurious behavior where they may do something like putting a foreign object in their mouth, but they are not a danger to others.

Kubasek said DDI, which runs 38 residences in Nassau and Suffolk counties, is currently in a 40-day notification period with the Town of Brookhaven and residents can reach out to town representatives. The town has the right to ask the nonprofit to choose another location if they think there is a saturation of group homes in the area.

Once DDI and a homeowner close on a house, it can typically take six to nine months to secure all of the approvals and complete the renovations, according to Kubasek.