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Mental health group fights to open home in Laurelton

A Corona-based social agency is trying to establish a group residence in Laurelton for five mildly retarded adults even though Community Board 13 has rejected the proposed facility.

The Bernard Fineson Developmental Center, an agency that operates state mental health sites, has proposed setting up a group home in a vacant house at 130-57 225th St. in Laurelton, but the community has said it already has more than its share of facilities and that the home would increase traffic along the one-way street.

"All citizens are entitled to quality living conditions," City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) wrote in a letter opposing the home. "However, I feel that this community has more than their fair share of facilities of this nature. I strongly urge you to identify other sites that will not impact so severely on a community that is already overstrained with special families."

Community Board 13 voted against the proposal at its May meeting, and the agency has requested a public hearing from the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to possibly overturn the decision. The meeting was scheduled for Thursday but has been postponed until July 8 at 10 a.m. at Borough Hall, CB 13 Chairman Richard Hellenbrecht said.

Staff at the Bernard Fineson Developmental Center office in Corona referred calls seeking comment to the state OMRDD, but calls there were not returned.

The community argues that southeast Queens has been saddled with more group home facilities than other areas in the borough, particularly northeast Queens, said Vernel Bennett, president of the 224th-225th Civic Association. Community Board 13, running along the eastern Queens border, has at least 44 facilities, while other boards have just five or six, he said.

"We're not saying we don't want the group homes in the community. We're saying that we have more than our share in the community board that do not represent southeast Queens."

The proposal calls for the group home to be set up in a single-family English Tudor-style attached house on 225th Street, Bennett said. The attachment could drive down property values should families try to sell their homes.

"The fact that it's a group home - when you have an attached home - I don't think it's that viable," Bennett said. "If I was getting ready to sell my home and you were interested in buying it, would you want it if you knew there was a group home attached?"

Parking on the often-congested block is also a concern, Bennett said. The facility would require five employees, and the residents' visitors could take up additional spots on the street, he said. Bennett's civic association has compiled about 600 signatures on a petition opposing the residence, he said.

"We have to park in front of our houses," he said. "Parking spaces are at a premium."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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