A raucous group of Cortlandt homeowners told representatives of an agency that serves developmentally disabled individuals they were not wanted in their neighborhood during a heated Town Hall meeting last week.
“We’re not monsters. We came out in force because something came into our neighborhood that we didn’t sign up for,” said East Hill Road resident John Isabella, one of approximately 30 residents on hand. “We’re not just here to raise the roof. We just want to keep it simple. There has to be another solution to your situation.”
Community Based Services, Inc., which currently serves 75 individuals at eight different community residential sites in Westchester, informed Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi in a March 29 letter it was planning to relocate eight severely mentally retarded adults from a state-owned residence in Pound Ridge to a five-bedroom home at 17 East Hill Road.
Community Based Services Chief Executive Officer Vicki Sylvester, who has worked for the agency since its birth in 1981, said the agency has looked at thousands of homes throughout the county over the last six years since the converted summer home in Pound Ridge has a failing septic system and other costly structural problems.
“We all believe it’s a perfect site for them,” Sylvester said of the Cortlandt home. “It’s barrier free and wheelchair-accessible. Nobody wants us. We get the same response everywhere we go so nothing said tonight is a surprise. We will do our very best to be good neighbors and blend into the community. That’s the whole idea of living in a community.”
The four men and four women that would live in the home are between the ages of 35 and 51. Most of them have lived together for the last 30 years in Pound Ridge. They are not capable of having a job and are always accompanied by a trained staff member.
“They’re a real sweet, bright group of people. There are no worries that they will harm anyone,” Sylvester stressed. “All of our group homes are in the middle of a residential neighborhood. If you drive down any of the streets where our group homes are you wouldn’t be able to say ‘There’s a group home’ or ‘There’s a group home.’”
While none of Community Based Services’ other homes are located in Cortlandt, there are 16 group homes currently scattered throughout the town, a “saturation” Puglisi feels is not shared in all municipalities.
“We are all compassionate to help others who need services. Our main objection is the Town of Cortlandt has done its fair share to assist,” Puglisi remarked.
At one point in the meeting, when Sylvester was being badgered by an East Hill Road resident and threatened to leave, Ira Rothenstein, a team leader with the Hudson Valley DDSO, insisted Puglisi control the behavior of the audience. Puglisi took offense to Rothenstein’s request and said the residents had the right to voice their concerns.
Cortlandt has until May 9 to officially object to the establishment of the residence with the state and Westchester County, which it plans to do.