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Queens Chronicle

CB 13 hears calls for group homes

One for women approved; another for troubled boys gets an extension

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:46 am, Thu Mar 7, 2013.

Community Board 13 entertained two proposals for group homes in Queens Village offered by a pair of social service groups on Monday.

The first presentation was made by representatives of Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families, which is seeking to renovate and open a house at 222-32 99 Street.

Kleckner Charles, director of residential services for Edwin Gould, said the group is looking to bring four young women with intellectual or developmental disabilities home to Queens from specialized schools they now attend out of state.

“The state Department of Education requires us, when they reach 21 or 22 years of age, to bring them back to their communities,” Charles said.

He said they are preparing to spend about $200,000 to make the house code-compliant, and to convert the three-bedroom home into a four-bedroom facility that would have 24-hour staff on hand.

Charles and other representatives said the women range in ability from one who has difficulty with spoken communication to one who now works five days a week at a regular job in a school cafeteria.

They said the aim is for the women to continue their education and to find jobs and be members of the community.

The board approved the application by a vote of 19-3, with opponents saying that the area long has been oversaturated with so-called “community housing,” a situation they said is allowed by a loophole in state law that allows group homes to be concentrated in certain communities.

A vote on a second proposal, this one by Martin de Porres Group Homes in Springfield Gardens, was delayed after a representative of the group said it is still working out lease agreements for a building owned by Incarnation Church at 89-28 207 St.

As with its two other homes in the city, the site would house up to six boys between the ages of 14 and 17 who have been in the court system for minor offenses such as truancy or violation of probation.

Brother Philip Rofrano said their program is aimed at working with the young men and their families to keep the small problems from becoming much larger ones.

He said the building would be staffed 24 hours a day; would have elaborate security systems; and that its residents have strict curfews, are not permitted to own radios or cell phones and are searched upon returning to the residence to prevent contraband.

Board member Seymour Finkelstein argued that the board has in the past had a blanket policy of voting down such homes because of oversaturation.

“How many group homes are in Forest Hills?” he asked. Fellow board member Nagassar Ramgarib of the Queens Village Civic Association said he appreciates that such residences are necessary, but that they must be choosy.

“I live across the street from one,” he said. “I have had fights break out on my doorstep. I know what it is like to live near a group home.”

District Manager Larry McClean said that the board has fought and stopped objectionable applications in the past, but that ones such as the Edwin Gould proposal always must be carefully considered. He also was not aware of a blanket rejection policy, citing at least one recent approval.

Board member Bess DeBetham, a member of the Land Use Committee, which recommended approval of the Edwin Gould proposal, said the firm has been a model of cooperation with CB 13 from the start.

She said the group was prompt in notifying local legislators, meeting with the committee and addressing or explaining all questions and concerns during the process.

Charles told Ramgarib that Gould representatives are completely willing to extend the same courtesy to him and his civic association.

“I think we will be attached at the hip during this process,” he said, eliciting some laughs from the crowd.

The delay on the Gould vote sought by Ramgarib was not possible, according to Board Chairman Bryan Block, because of the impending 45-day state deadline from time of application.

Rofrano agreed to waive the deadline until March while both he and the board gather more information.

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