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Neighbors question proposed group home in Smithtown

A group home is proposed on Twixt Hills

A group home is proposed on Twixt Hills Road in St. James. Credit: Shelby Knowles

A Garden City not-for-profit told Smithtown officials it plans to open a home for six adults with developmental disabilities and autism on Twixt Hills Road in St. James.

Life’s WORC executive director Janet Koch said in a Jan. 15 letter to Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim that the home would provide 24-hour supervision with “instruction in activities of daily living, offer opportunities for companionship, participation in community activities” and education opportunities.

The organization would use a single-family, 2,857-square-foot two-story Colonial-style home on a 0.56-acre lot.

Life’s WORC officials are scheduled to appear at a Feb. 14 public meeting at the Smithtown senior center, Wehrheim told worried neighbors at a Thursday night town council meeting.

“Is this the best location for that?” asked one Twixt Hills Road man about the proposed home site. “I don’t think so.”

According to the real estate website realtor.com, the property sold for $575,000 on Jan. 9. Adele Rosenberg, a real estate agent for Coach Real Estate, represented the seller and confirmed the sale but declined to identify her client.

Mary Rafferty, Life’s WORC chief operating officer, did not respond to a request for comment.

Under New York State law, the notification letter starts a 40-day response period for town officials to accept the site, recommend an alternative elsewhere in town or object on grounds that establishment of the home would lead to a concentration of community residential facilities or “substantially” alter the character of areas within the town.

Town officials have said in the past that state law gives them little power to stop an organization’s plans to operate a group home.

There are about 30 group homes for developmentally disabled people in Smithtown, and at least two residential care providers have announced plans for group homes in the town since 2017. Anxious neighbors packed town meetings to try to get them relocated, but town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the only home town officials had received complaints about was on Angela Court in St. James. Those complaints were over parking and staff briefings being conducted outside and were addressed after neighbors, town officials and home management met, she said.

Advocates for home residents and their families say the homes are needed to meet a critical shortage of community housing on Long Island.

A spokeswoman for the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which licenses residential programs, said in November that the agency provided residential support for 41,000 people, the largest number in the nation. About 1,200 people moved into an OPWDD residence in 2017. 

Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he has for years sponsored a state bill that would require presentations such as the one planned for February. Often that is enough to alleviate neighbors' concerns, he said. "These are autistic individuals whose parents have passed away or are not able to care for them . . . They have a right to live in the community from which they come."

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