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Editorial: Define saturated

Because a great many community activists in Queens are apparently undersaturated with the milk of human kindness, it is incumbent upon the state Legislature to define exactly what it means by the word “saturated.”

Once again last week, the TimesLedger reported that a community is opposing the opening of a group home for mentally retarded adults. The report followed what has become a familiar formula.

The foes of the new group home announce that they are not opposed to the concept of group homes, but their community is “oversaturated” with such facilities. They then note that according to what is known as the Padavan Law, they can successfully oppose a group home if they can demonstrate that their community is “saturated” with groups home and similar facilities. But the state law does not define “saturated.”

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said she wants the community to have a say in where new group homes for the mentally retarded should be cited. “I am not opposed to group homes, but too much of anything is too much. .. The siting of homes is always a concern when it happens without community knowledge. I am opposed to siting without talking to the community. The community needs to be a partner,” Clark wrote in a letter to Thomas Maul, commissioner of the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. She asked Maul to investigate the growing number of group homes in Community Board Districts 12 and 13.

Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, said her community is oversaturated. “We are being inundated with request for homes,” she said. “We have nothing against these homes, but why not give each community board its fair share? It seems we are the dumping ground — CB 12 and CB 13.”

Meanwhile, the state is hoping to clear up the backlog of retarded adults waiting to find a place in a group home. The state hopes to place 5,000 adults in the next five years under an initiative called NYS-Cares.

We find the need for these disadvantaged people to find a living situation that will give them a measure of freedom and dignity far more compelling than the concerns of homeowners who prefer not to have a group home on their block. It makes sense that the community board should play a role in siting such facilities — at least in theory. But we fear that community boards would be inclined to insist that the group homes go somewhere else.

One wonders why Clark and other members of the state Legislature do not seek to amend the Padavan Law so that a clear standard will be set for saturation. If it is amended, the law must make it clear that the mentally retarded have the right to live in the community. The definition of saturation must never be so narrow as to make it impossible to find affordable sites. The law must acknowledge that housing in some communities is far too expensive for group homes and that in other communities the housing just isn’t suitable.

The problem isn’t new. Community boards have been complaining about the Padavan Law and the lack of definition for “saturated” for more than 10 years and nothing has been done. As it exists now, the Padavan Law is useless to both the group home providers and the disabled adults they serve and the communities who feel inundated by public facilities.

The ball is in the Legislature’s court.

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