Apr 29, 2014 Tami Scott Uncategorized
More than 75 people turned out last week for what became a heated informational meeting that the Lysander Town Board held to learn more about a community residence expected to be built on 3494 Doyle Road. Its program serves boys ages 7 to 13 who experience severe mental health and or behavioral issues.
Attorney John Klucsik, of Gilberti Stinziano Heintz and Smith Law Firm, acted as legal counsel for the town and moderator throughout the meeting. A panel of four representatives for the nonprofit organization, Toomey Residential and Community Services, attempted to give a presentation about their facility and its program. Representatives, however, were interrupted multiple times by angry residents demanding why they hadn’t heard about the proposed group home when it was first introduced to Lysander officials in a certified letter delivered 13 months ago.
Supervisor John Salisbury admitted he received the letter and walked it down to the codes department, but when he had found out from codes that nothing had happened with the property, he said he forgot about it, as too did the codes department.
The March 2013 letter was from Toomey Residential notifying the town of the project. The town had 40 days to support or oppose the project, or offer an alternate site within the town of Lysander. No action by the town was taken.
“I take responsibility for that,” Salisbury said. “It’s not like me not to send this to the board, but I have no record that I ever sent [it].”
In addition to the residents’ fury with the board, they expressed multiple concerns about the project ranging from decrease in property value and an increase in taxes to safety, crime and security. Some people who spoke expressed empathy for the struggling families, however, they still felt uncomfortable having this type of program in their neighborhood.
“This is a 4,000 square foot behemoth mental correctional facility for young children,” said Alan Robbins of 3520 Doyle Road. “This is on a country lane with no improvements. None. There’s no sidewalks, no sewer, no police, no streetlights and if you’ve done all your research and you found this to be the ideal site, there’s a 50 acre site a quarter mile away on a better road for less money.”
Toomey Residential Executive Director Judith D’Amore said they had been seeking a site to relocate to for the past three or four years. They couldn’t return to the former location due to extensive, costly structural damage and their stay at Elmcrest Children’s Center in Syracuse was just temporary.
Toomey Residential and Community Services ultimately purchased the 2.75 acre property from Nancy Abbott for $70,000. The lot was already subdivided and zoned RA-40 to handle this type of facility. It does not need to go before the town or planning board.
Construction is estimated to cost $900,000. If all goes as expected, D’Amore said the facility would most likely be up and running in the spring of 2015.
The Lysander Town Board opened discussion to another fully engaged audience during its regular meeting April 28, where it tabled a motion to write a letter to the New York state representatives regarding local input into the establishment of group homes.
Some residents labeled board members as having a defeatist attitude toward the project and a handful insisted that Salisbury resign from his position.
“I’m deeply disappointed in the position that the board has taken compounding the negligence already committed,” Robbins said. “So rather than taking a pro-citizen stance against this with Toomey, we are folding our hands and saying that there’s nothing we can do … This is a tragedy of titanic proportion. I don’t think you guys quite understand that.”
If the town were to file a lawsuit, the likelihood of winning would be next to nothing, said town attorney Anthony Rivizzigno.
“People say litigate,” he said. “What you’re entitled to is nothing but a hearing in front of the mental hygiene commissioner. If you think you’re going to convince him to do something that he’s already made up his mind to do, it’s wishful thinking. It’s not going to happen. It’s not reality. I understand your frustration … I’ve seen the same thing happen in many towns. It’s never been a successful challenge.”
If litigation were initiated, Rivizzigno added, it would be at a great cost to town residents.
Rob Geiger was the last resident to present his view before the meeting was adjourned. Geiger purchased the lot next to the proposed facility.
“Fear is not justification for opposing this project,” he said. “Taking your position on an issue requires careful thought and investigation of evidence … not misrepresentation of facts or unsupported allegations of unknown future residents. To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.”
“While I do believe the facility of the type that Toomey residential services has proposed is necessary in today’s society, I’m neither for nor against the construction at the proposed location on Doyle Road next to my lot,” he added. “However, if it is built, I will do my best to be a good neighbor.”
About the facility
The Children’s Community Residence that is expected to relocate from its former site on Mather Street in Syracuse to Doyle Road in Lysander serves boys ages 7 to 13 (average age is 10) who are mentally and or behaviorally dysfunctional. The program offers a therapeutic environment that focuses on improving self-esteem, self-management of behavior and skill development. Their stay is voluntary and temporary, averaging about eight to 12 months. The home being built will have the capacity to house up to eight boys, each with his own bedroom, though Toomey Residential representatives say they rarely reach the maximum, instead averaging six children at a time. Family involvement is encouraged and most often takes place at the child’s home and not at the facility.
The facility is staffed 24/7. It has a fenced-in playground in the backyard and an open layout inside. Children are supervised in the home, outside in the yard and in community settings.
Additionally, children will attend school either in the Baldwinsville Central School District or at a day treatment program for children with mental health diagnoses. At the time of the meeting, representatives said school officials had not yet been notified of potential new students.
The board will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, May 5 at Lysander Town Hall, 8220 Loop Road in Radisson.