State regulator backtracks and blocks new clinic location

Brooklyn Daily
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The state is having second thoughts about First Steps.

The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services has withdrawn its initial approval for First Steps to Recovery, a drug rehabilitation center, to relocate to a Sheepshead Bay apartment building, months after the agency gave the clinic the go ahead to renovate the office space in preparation to move in.

Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) is claiming total victory in his campaign to block the rehab clinic.

“The controversial drug treatment center proposed for … Sheepshead Bay is now history,” Cymbrowitz said in a press release.

Psychologist Igor Beregnoi, the owner of First Steps, had gotten “contingent approval” from the state agency when he began preparing to move his drug-counseling practice from its current location on Brighton 12th Street to the E. 21st Street apartment building between Jerome and Voorhies avenues — despite a Community Board 15 hearing where locals spoke out against the proposal last year.

Community residents complained that the building was home to families and children who would be exposed to Beregnoi’s presumably seedy clientèle.

“You can see children’s toys out on the terraces of the building,” said Cymbrowitz. “The siting is horrendous and doesn’t make any sense.”

As Beregnoi was busy renovating the former doctor’s office on the building’s ground floor, Cymbrowitz was moving against the business with the help of CB15 chairwoman Theresa Scavo. In July, the lawmaker called a meeting with state officials that resulted in a stop-work order to halt Beregnoi’s renovations.

Scavo described the meeting as unpleasant for the representatives from the state agency.

“We sat down with OASAS and the city health department and tried to figure out who dropped the ball and how these people got okayed,” she said.

Following the state revoking their “contingent approval,” Beregnoi still had hopes that his growing drug counseling business, which he claims has a clientèle consisting mostly of older, Russian-speaking, Southern Brooklyn alcoholics, would eventually receive approval from the state agency, which has the final say in permitting rehabilitation practices.

Now that agency has ruled against the psychologist, however, Beregnoi’s efforts to expand to the E. 21st Street location seem to have been for naught.

The residents of that building, on the other hand, are happy that their nightmare visions of a drug-fueled crime wave will not become a reality.

“If it does go through, you’ll see a big change,” resident Stewart Gross said, prior to the state’s recent decision. “You’ll see crime, a lot of crime, and homeless people. You can’t have this in New York next to residential buildings.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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