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Bellone: Decision soon on Foley home's fate

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in

The John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. (July 31, 2012) Credit: Johnny Milano

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday that he'll move swiftly to resolve the future of the John J. Foley nursing home, calling a zoning decision that has stalled the facility's sale "outrageous."

Brookhaven's Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday unanimously denied the county the special permit it needed to allow the nursing home to be privately operated. The board hasn't publicly explained its vote; it has until Monday to file a written decision.

A zone change is needed to complete the sale because the 14-acre parcel on which the Yaphank facility sits is zoned A-1 residential, which limits development to homes on one-acre lots. Suffolk has been able to operate the nursing home because county government is exempt from local zoning laws.

"This is a completely political decision that will cost taxpayers a million dollars a month if it's allowed to stand," Bellone said, referring to the county's annual subsidy of as much as $12 million to operate Foley. "We can't allow this to stand. It's outrageous."

Bellone said his decision on how to move forward would come in "a very short period of time," with options ranging from a challenge of the decision to closing the facility. "It's not something that's going to go another month," he said.

Bellone last summer entered into a contract to sell the 264-bed facility to Israel and Samuel Sherman, who operate numerous nursing homes throughout the state, for $23 million. The county promised that all patients would continue to be cared for under the new owners, and that Foley's roughly 200 employees could keep their jobs.

But hurdles sprouted up almost immediately, with some county lawmakers and the union that represents nursing home workers alleging that Bellone failed to comply with numerous steps required by law for the sale of a public facility, including a competitive bidding process. The opponents sued the county in state Supreme Court in October.

Beyond the lawsuit and zoning snag, a state health council still must approve the sale.

Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), a sale opponent, lauded Brookhaven's zoning board, saying that the county application was "misguided from the first instance" because Foley does not meet the area's long-standing use and capacity requirements. He dismissed arguments that the permit should be granted simply because the county has previously operated there under an exemption.

"Had the decision gone the other way, the board would have turned 100 years of jurisprudence on its head," Kennedy said. "All the county arguments were distortions."

Michael Balboni, a spokesman for the Shermans, said Thursday that his clients haven't given up on the sale and still hope to have a good relationship with Brookhaven Town.

"We just want to understand, what was their rationale?" he said of the zoning board.

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