At the conclusion of the public hearing, March 7, on a proposed Group Home at 22 New York Ave. South, the White Plains Common Council voted to oppose the project in accordance with procedures outlined by NYS Mental Hygiene Law Section 41.34.
The proposed community residence for developmentally disabled adults was put forward by the Institute of Applied Human Dynamics, Inc. (IAHD), an organization that provides services to people with developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders by “providing support and services to these individuals and their families across their lifespan so as to assist them in community living, achievement of growth potential, support for community inclusion and provision of long term care in the home of their choice,” according to the agency’s website.
The property at 22 New York Avenue contains a large single-family home with space for adequate parking for staff, visitors and two vans used for transportation.
IAHD Executive Director, Stanley Silverstein, explained that the group of 10 people, who would be moving from a similar situation in Mt. Vernon (although they originally came from communities across Westchester County), had been together as a family for many years. Seven had been together for at least 30 years.
NYS Mental Hygiene Law Section 41.34, also known as the Padavan Law, was established in 1978 to prevent communities from excluding group homes unless the area is already saturated or a better site in the same community can be found.
Residents from the Prospect Park neighborhood as well as members of the neighborhood association board who came out to oppose the group home cited the number of proposed occupants of the home as too high a number for a “family” in that neighborhood and that the 24/7 need for residential staffing and the size of the vans and required parking made the home more of a commercial enterprise than a home.
They said they were concerned for the safety of their children walking to school and bus stops because of traffic volume and the size of vehicles (other than regular buses, delivery vehicles, etc.) that would regularly service the IAHD home, all traveling on narrow roads with no sidewalks.
According to the written New York law, a community residential facility for the disabled would support from four to 14 residents. The municipality in which the home would be established has 40 days to respond to notice by the sponsoring agency, in this case IAHD, if it intends to oppose the plan. The municipality can also find and suggest another location for the group home.
During the pubic hearing, Councilman Dennis Krolian asked if any other sites within White Plains had been considered as alternatives. Krolian proposed that the group of 10 to 14 individuals could be broken up into smaller groups such as 6 to 8 for housing in more standard-sized homes.
Krolian further said he had driven around White Plains looking for vacant homes and homes for sale that might fit the requirements.
His suggestion was not taken up by other members of the Council who felt that such an alternative had not been sufficiently vetted and due to the looming State deadline, they needed to act within days on their response.
Ultimately, the opposition by White Plains was primarily based on saturation of such homes in the area. With 138 developmentally residents already housed in White Plains, 80 of those individuals are living in nine homes within 4,606 feet of 22 New York Ave.
Pedestrian safety and the unique nature of the neighborhood were also taken into consideration.
The vote to object was six to one with Councilman John Martin voting yes although he said he believed the State would not accept the rejection, and Councilwoman Beth Smayda voting against the objection because she “could not with her heart” deny residency to the people seeking it.
The saturation decision and viability of other claims will be made by New York State.
Not included in the vote, but filed for future consideration was a proposal by Councilman John Kirkpatrick to investigate a compromise between White Plains and IAHD to allow the group home at 22 New York Ave. to go forward with a smaller number of members to the family – perhaps capping the number at 10.