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Proposed group home stirs locals

To start things off, Steven Tanzer, assistant business officer of Bernard Fineson Developmental Disabilities Services Office, explained that he chose the site because it was a place where he himself would be comfortable living.

"I think you'll find us to be good neighbors," said Tanzer. He spoke about how group homes are generally opposed but the community grows to love them.

If approved, the site would house five people who are moderately mentally retarded and developmentally disabled. The house would have 24-hour staff supervision. Each person living at the residence would attend six hours of program at a sheltered workshop or day treatment program each day.

Before the public was given a chance to voice their opinion, Diamond told the crowd that according to the Padavan law, which sets the guidelines for group homes, the only justifiable reason to stop a group home is oversaturation of the neighborhood with existing group homes.

To make matters more difficult no definition of "saturation" has ever been provided by the state, he said.

"There is no definition," said Diamond. "It is the perception of the individual."

He expressed his reservations that regardless of what happened in the meeting the group home was virtually unpreventable. "If an agency selects a site, there is very little likelihood it will not be purchased and built on that site," he said.

The five speakers who addressed the crowd were opposed to the group home.

Alice Calo, who lives next door to the house in question, said the proposal has been giving her nightmares. Johnny Lall, who lives across the street from the house, expressed fear over his proposed new neighbors. "Who's going to be responsible when somebody harms my kid?" said Lall.

Junita Mahabir read from a prepared statement: "We feel that mentally retarded people should be placed in an institution. Housing them in a densely populated residential neighborhood is subjecting the neighborhood to all sorts of risks and putting us in harms way."

After the public portion of the hearing, the three board members said they were opposed to the new group home, but for different reasons.

Schwartz was against the proposal because of the concentration of group homes in the area. There are three homes in the immediate vicinity. One of the group homes is on 148th Street. Another one is on 87th Avenue and a third home is on 87th Road.

"Sometimes there are bad laws and sometimes we have to speak out against them," said Schwartz.

Sidell's said his position reflected the position of the residents of the community present at the meeting, which overwhelmingly objected to the proposed home.

"We try to accommodate the views of the community," said Sidell of his role on the board.

Diamond said he was adamantly opposed to the process of approving a group home and his vote reflected that.

In an interview following the meeting Diamond said he did not believe that his vote would count when the full board convened.

"My vote doesn't make a difference," said Diamond. "If all 50 [members of Community Board 8] voted against it. it still would happen."

The proposed group home for Briarwood was scheduled to be voted on June 9 at Community Board 8's monthly meeting.

Reach reporter Tommy Hallissey by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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