Today’s news:

Thumbs up for new group home

Directors of a non-profit group faced a barrage of questions Tuesday night over plans to establish a group home in Gravesend for developmentally disabled adults. Addressing a meeting of Community Board 15, representatives from Program Development Services, Inc. (PDS) defended their program, which provides residential services to people “whose families can no longer take care of them.” PDS Associate Director Richard Murray described plans to convert an existing two-family house at 1022 Avenue W into a “home-like atmosphere” for eight adults. “These people are never unsupervised, whether walking around the community or going to a recreational program,” Murray said, reassuring the audience that the residents would be provided with round-the-clock supervision. The presentation was followed by intense questioning and some criticism from audience members, including several of the group home’s future neighbors. More than once, CB 15 Chair Theresa Scavo called for order during the lively discussion, as impassioned speakers aired their opinions. “Did you ever try to break up an argument with disabled adults?” asked CB 15 Second Vice-Chair Rita Napolitano. “These children living there – it’s going to frighten them,” Napolitano said. “I don’t think you notified neighbors properly,” said CB 15 member Sheila Nelson, referring to a flier distributed to some neighbors informing them of the Tuesday’s public hearing. One citizen asked if the soon-to-be residents have psychiatric disorders or are sex offenders, to which Richard Murray responded by saying the group of clients have no history with the criminal justice system. “They’re not people with mental illness. They’re just people that need help with their daily living skills,” Murray said. City Councilmember Mike Nelson took the microphone to respond to critics, saying, “These people have the right to live wherever they want. This is the United States of America!” Nelson’s comments drew a rousing round of applause. But most Gravesend residents who attended the meeting were eager to point out that their uneasiness stemmed not from who was moving into the neighborhood, but rather, from concerns over maintenance of the property. “I live next door, and that house is a mess,” said John Sorrano of Gravesend, saying the now-vacant property had been neglected by its previous owner. Sorrano’s concerns were met by reassurances from PDS officials that necessary repairs would be completed. Other neighbors cited concerns over parking and traffic, saying their block was already congested. But after hearing from the public, the Community Board later voted 34-1 in support of the group home. Napolitano – who had earlier raised concerns – voted in favor of the facility. “They convinced me that nothing was going to go wrong,” she said. Once Program Development Services, Inc. closes on the property, Richard Murray said his organization expects to renovate the home in the coming months. Eight residents could be relocated from their existing group home in Coney Island as early as this summer. Murray encouraged curious or concerned residents to inspect a group home PDS currently operates at 1933 E. 19th Street.

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