Leake & Watts, an organization that does work to benefit the mentally disabled, recently received approval to set up a group home at 1623 Glover Street in Zerega.
Kenneth Kearns, District Manager of Community Board 10, said that the majority of the board opposed the Leake & Watts plan. The address was formally a facility for nine adolescents, but will become a home for six mentally disabled women in their forties.
“We had a public hearing,” explained Kearns, “and basically the entire block voiced the opinion that they didn’t want to see it there because previously Leake & Watts did not operate the facility properly.”
CB10 informed Leake & Watts that they opposed the new plan, which prompted Leake & Watts to exercise the right for a commissioner’s hearing with the Board of Mental Health.
In a letter to all parties involved, Diana Jones Ritter, commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities, wrote that CB10’s objections to the group home were “conjectural and insufficient to show overconcentration of similar residences in the area.” She also noted that she could only support the board’s objection if CB10 were able to prove the group home “will substantially alter the area’s nature and character.”
Kearns said that CB10 sent a letter back to Ritter on March 19 and wrote that they did not support the group home and were disappointed the state had approved it. But, said Kearns, “We have not received a response from her, and won’t.”
Alan Mucatel, executive director of Leake & Watts, is aware of the displeasure some board members and residents feel with the prospect of another group home. At the hearing, he said, “Community members were asking a lot of tough questions, yes, but we still felt that even though they didn’t support the facility, it was positive that they were hearing more about the work we do, and participating in a dialogue.”
The next step with the location will be interior renovation work. “We hope to start construction very soon,” said Mucatel, “and to officially be open at this time next year. But before that we’ll be reaching out to our neighbors on the block.” Whether those neighbors will be receptive to engaging with Leake & Watts, and the home itself, is another question.
Kearns reflected that it’s difficult to play the villain in these scenarios: “We get accused of being intolerant, or they say we don’t like retarded people, but it’s not that. The fact is that 18 to 22 of these facilities already exist here; another one would constitute oversaturation. They keep putting them in and putting them in, and that’s wrong.” Alan Mucatel reiterated that oversaturation or not, “We care about Westchester Square, and we really are sincere about that. No matter what some folks believe.”
Reach reporter Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383 or droberts@c
©2010 Community News Group