Curses and recriminations flew fast and furious inside Kingsborough Community College’s faculty dining room last week as upset neighbors protested the proposed opening of a group home on East 21st Street.
At one point during the combative Community Board 15 hearing, executive committee member Ronald Tawil threatened to call in the cops and have the disruptive parties removed.
“I’m sorry that I represent a group of people like this,” fellow board member Allen Popper spat.
About 40 neighbors living near 2055 East 21st Street packed the meeting space to protest HASC, Inc.’s plans to house four mildly to moderately retarded young men in their 20s on the block located between avenue S and T.
Residents complained that they felt insecure about having the HASC clients as neighbors as well as the prospect of sharing parking space with staffers.
“Our philosophy is different from what is being expressed here,” HASC representative Chaim Wakslak responded. “They need to be integrated in the community. They want to be part of the neighborhood.”
Wakslak described the four individuals slated to move into the modest house on East 21st Street as “fine, upstanding young men” who have “demonstrated the capacity not to negatively impact the community.”
Everyone living in a HASC Individual Alternative Residence, or IRA, either holds a job or attends a day program. Staffers also monitor their clients around the clock.
“For the most part, clients are encouraged to do their own shopping and laundry,” Wakslak said. “They’re high-functioning, like four roommates living in the Hamptons.”
Discussion of the proposed group home on East 21st Street was a late entry onto the Community Board 15 agenda and many residents complained that they weren’t given adequate notice about the public hearing.
According to Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, the board office learned about HASC’s East 21st proposal in early May and sent out an addendum to every board member on May 19 or 20 informing them that a public hearing on the matter would be held when the board met a week later.
“It was interesting that little more than a week ago we received postal mail notification that the 10-story Bragg Street building was suddenly dropped from the CB 15 agenda, but we were never notified that the East 21st Street proposed group home was added – not even a last-minute email,” said Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association Vice-president Ed Jaworski.
Residents living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed group home were notified about the hearing, however, and Scavo said that she fielded a large volume of calls from upset neighbors just prior to the event.
Community board member Debra Grief, mother of a child with developmental disabilities, scolded residents for opposing the group home.
“You think you have a right to discriminate against my child,” she declared.
Fellow board member Harold Weinberg counseled opponents to “live and work together” because current laws make successfully blocking the HASC residence virtually impossible.
“Everything is on their side,” he said.
The board’s overwhelming vote in favor of supporting the group home sent disgruntled residents storming out into the evening and vowing to hold a protest outside the site.