A Community Board 7 public hearing erupted into chaos as furious residents of a Whitestone neighborhood tried desperately to prevent a one-family house from being transformed into a group home for seven mildly handicapped men and women.
As the hearing began, dozens of neighbors of the detached high ranch at 14-56 139th St. were obviously upset by the prospect of the group home and raring to argue their case. What really set them off was when a CB 7 member said a law sponsored by state Sen. Frank Padavan had already ensured the project would go forward.
"It's a done deal because that's the way the law is," said board member James Crisafulli. "Hold your elected officials accountable."
According to the Padavan Law, CB 7 had three choices - approve the site, recommend another site within its jurisdiction or disapprove the site if the community proved the home would alter the neighborhood's character.
With the board voting 48-to-3 in favor of the home, residents stormed out of the meeting, wondering aloud why they had even bothered to attend, and continued arguing loudly in the hall with longtime CB 7 member Eugene Kelty.
The new group home will be operated by the Professional Service Centers for the Handicapped - PSCH - and will house three men and four women, ages 35 to 43.
Claire Mahon, PSCH's executive vice president, said for purposes of confidentiality, she could not tell the audience the specific diagnoses of the tenants. Autism or cerebral palsy were common ailments for residents of similar group homes, she said.
She said the tenants were intelligent, fairly high functioning and capable of physical self care, but needed guidance and 24-hour supervision.
There will be two PSCH staff members at the group home during the day, and at least one at night.
Mahon said the residents - all from Queens, including one from Whitestone - would live at the home for the long term, although some could graduate to independent living. She said some were moving there because their own families were aging and could not care for them. Others had come from more supervised homes but achieved a certain level of skill.
For anyone who has attended such public hearings in the past, neighbors' arguments against the group home were nothing new.
Many said they believed the home would be too small for seven residents, while others were concerned about the safety of their children.
"I have nothing against these people, but I don't think they belong in a densely residential community," said one woman.
Sandor Murray said since he and his neighbors have already had to deal with the increased traffic and noise from the College Point megastores, the group home was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"I'm sure everybody here is sick and tired of other people telling them who and what goes in their neighborhood," he said to applause.
Several CB 7 members and Bay Terrace activist and social worker Joyce Shepard asked the Whitestone residents to stop demonizing their future neighbors.
"Demonizing them in a public meeting like this only makes it more difficult to integrate them into the community," said Arnold Wagner.
"We fear what we don't know," said Shepard. "When the group home opens, go in and meet them."
John Liu, a new CB 7 member who heads the North Flushing Civic Association, said he lived two blocks from a group home. He said its residents are regular participants in his civic's activities.
"I don't think there's any proof there's a safety concern," Liu said, noting, "They may not be as independent as you and I are, but they still are people and still are members of society."
©2000 Community News Group
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