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Group home planned for village sparks resident concerns

Some Village of the Branch residents say they're

Some Village of the Branch residents say they're concerned about plans for a group home on Oaktree Drive. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities plans to open a group home for six adults in the Village of the Branch, but neighbors have concerns about safety and maintenance.

An affiliate of AHRC Nassau notified village officials in May of its plan to open the home, and in June the organization, through another affiliate, paid $470,000 for the Oaktree Drive ranch home on less than an acre in an affluent subdivision west of Route 111.

Six Suffolk County residents with intellectual disabilities or autism would live at the address.

The home is part of a broad move across New York State away from institutions and intermediate facilities to individual homes to allow fuller participation in community life, Mary McNamara, AHRC Foundation director, said in an interview last week.

“These are people who have gone through special ed in school and graduated, and their parents, through whatever life circumstances,” are no longer able to provide care, McNamara said. “They would like to have a meaningful life and they’re supported as they do that.”

The six residents would receive round-the-clock supervision from trained staff, and AHRC clients or workers would maintain the property, which is currently vacant.

Skeptical residents and officials point out that the village already has two group homes within its borders and another nearby. Some of the strongest concerns at a July 11 village board meeting came from residents who said they had previous experience with group homes.

And the layout and location of the Oaktree Drive property, at the corner of busy Route 111, could be problematic, residents and village officials said. Village Attorney Christopher Ring warned in a June letter to AHRC that the village does not allow overnight street parking and also restricts the percentage of a lot that a property owner can pave and use for parking.

Dennis Sciacca, a middle school biology teacher who lives in the neighborhood, said in an interview he wasn’t opposed to the project and said the property, if well kept, could fit into the neighborhood of single-family homes. “Different doesn’t mean bad,” he said.

But Sciacca said he worried traffic to and from the home would worsen the already difficult turn to Route 111, and that staff vehicles could create a bottleneck at that end of Oaktree Drive.

McNamara said AHRC would work with residents and village officials to solve those and any other problems.

“We are going to fight this as much as we can,” trustee Roger Botto said at the July 11 meeting.

The village has scheduled a Sept. 12 hearing on the matter, but the state statute governing site selection of community residential facilities allows a municipality only 40 days after receipt of notice to object or suggest an alternate location. That deadline has passed.

Mayor Mark Delaney, who was traveling on business during the village meeting, downplayed the possibility of legal action, writing in an email to Newsday that “there’s little we can do to stop them assuming we wanted to. Our best path forward is to ensure they are held to the same high standards any resident of the village is held to in order to ensure the quality of life our residents expect.”

Group homes for people with developmental disabilities on Long Island

  • Nassau: 330
  • Suffolk: 408
  • Smithtown: 11

Source: New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities

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