Group home for Waterbury-LaSalle

Pelham Bay neighbors are divided on yet another group home moving into the neighborhood.

But with only a few nays, Community Board 10 approved a state proposal for construction of a permanent group home in Waterbury-LaSalle for six residents with a rare genetic eating disorder.

But some locals are not convinced the home is a worthwhile investment and are concerned about the behavior of the planned inhabitants, who have a genetic condition known as Prader-Willi Syndrome.

“They haven’t given us the time to do the research we need. These people coming in seem to be giving us different information all the time, and that makes me suspicious,” said Waterbury-LaSalle resident Mary Jane Musano, one of the few dissenting CB members at the board’s Thursday, Sept. 19 meeting.

The residents are slated to live in a two-story home at 3279 Bruckner Boulevard between LaSalle and Coddington Avenues. The project would cost the state nearly $1 million, including the purchase of the house and renovations, representatives from the New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities said at a public hearing the night before the vote.

Prader-Willi syndrome is caused by a genetic deficiency on chromosome 15 that affects the hypothalamus, the portion of the brain that regulates hunger.

People with Prader-Willi have uncontrollable urges to eat and are incapable of feeling full.

Without constant supervision, Prader-Willi patients often become morbidly obese. They also have low muscle tone and heightened anxiety, which can result in self-inflicted behaviors like skin picking and hoarding, said Terry O’Neill, executive director of Services for the Developmentally Challenged, who is spearheading the project.

Neighbors of the proposed home expressed concern at Wednesday’s public hearing that the inhabitants’ erratic behavior would disturb the peace of the community.

O’Neill acknowledged on Wednesday that Prader-Willi can cause outbursts and tantrums, but stressed that these incidents are self-inflicted, and that the group home would have a staff on duty 24 hours a day.

“I’ve been a part of 38 homes, and none of them has been wanted, but every time, they have been well liked,” O’Neill said.

The plans call for substantial changes to the home’s current layout, including a special wall in front of a padlocked kitchen.

The home itself is priced at $550,000, and the added cost of renovations could bring it to nearly $1 million, state representatives said.

But the plan will actually save taxpayer money in the long run, O’Neill argued, since the residents would otherwise be transferred to out-of-state group homes, with the Empire State footing the bill.

At least one Waterbury-LaSalle local voiced her approval of the group home at Wednesday’s public hearing.

Edie Weber said her autistic son lives in a similar nearby home also run by Services for the Developmentally Challenged.

“Without agencies like these,” she said, “I just don’t know what I would do.”

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (718) 742-3394.

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