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Clarkstown Greenlights Group Home In West Nyack For Young Girls With Eating Disorders

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Town Said NY State Law Made It Impossible To Challenge Application From Monte Nido & Affiliates To Site A Residential Facility On Clarkstown/Orangetown Border

By Tina Traster

Nearly 200 people showed up to a Town of Clarkstown town board meeting on Tuesday to express deep opposition to a proposed residential facility on the West Nyack-Town of Orangetown border, but it didn’t matter. The die was cast.

Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann and town attorney Kevin Conway took turns explicating why the town had no choice but to approve an application for Eating Disorder Treatment of New York, LLC/Monte Nido & Affiliates, a for-profit entity that plans to purchase a West Nyack manse at 259 Sickletown Road through a separate entity called OGA and convert it to a 24/7 residential facility for young girls with eating disorders.

Despite impassioned pleas from residents to challenge the proposal based on concerns over traffic, safety, and a threat to the character of the neighborhood, town officials repeatedly explained that the N.Y. Mental Health Hygiene Law, known as the Padavan Law, thwarted the town’s ability to challenge the proposal successfully.

“The Padavan Law permits and encourages residential facilities in residential zones,” said Hoehmann. “This is not a rezoning. It’s a permitted use; there is no basis to object.”

In 2017, town of North Castle officials voted against a proposed Armonk youth treatment center eyed for a 12,000-square-foot mansion at 14-16 Cole Drive. That proposal was brought under the 1978 state Padavan law. The state Office of Mental Health (OMH) subsequently rejected Paradigm Treatment Centers of California’s appeal. In its decision, OMH cited Paradigm Treatment Centers’ failure to demonstrate public need, a lack of adherence to the agency’s regulatory model and exclusionary criteria for admission as reasons to turn down its Prior Approval Review (PAR) application.

In 2014, a 10,000-square-foot home on South Broadway in Irvington was turned into a center to treat people with eating disorders. Monte Nido, which opened that facility, tried to open a residential treatment center for adolescent girls at a 7,900-square-foot home in Scarsdale, but withdrew after the village Board of Trustees registered opposition. The company instead took its proposal to an 8,000-square-foot home in Briarcliff Manor, next to the Trump National Golf Club, where that Board of Trustees did not to object.

Large homes in residential neighborhoods are ripe for residential facilities.

The pending sale of the 7,500-square-foot home in West Nyack, owned by Meisner Menachem is under contract to Oman-Gibson Associates (OGA), a full-service health care real estate and development firm with offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Dallas, Texas. The property will be owned by a special purpose entity that will act as the landlord. The contract is contingent on town approval for the facility. Menachem, 35, bought the six-bedroom, seven-bath house on 1.7 acres, in November 2021 for $2.35 million. He borrowed $1 million against the house last April and listed the house for $3.35 million about nine months ago, according to Zillow.

Attorney Jody T. Cross of Zarin-Steinmetz, who was representing the applicant, made a presentation on the proposal saying the state-certified residential facility would be used for girls ages 11 through 17, cycling through 30 to 60-day programs for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating, and others. Fourteen medical, therapeutic, and dietary professionals would staff the facility, with two in-house staff overnight.

“There are 2,700 teens with eating disorders in Rockland County,” said Cross. “There are only 32 beds in New York State. There is a dire need.”

Cross said the house and location were chosen for its sizable grounds, privacy, tranquility, and parking, adding: “We hope to become part of the fabric of the community.”

But that was not an easy sell for residents who balked at the idea that a residential facility would not impact their quality of life. The application pits the notion that small group homes in residential neighborhoods are beneficial with those who believe treatment centers bring traffic, parking, and transient people to stable neighborhoods.

“There is no amount of fencing or landscaping that will keep the sound from the property away from the neighbors,” said Gina Sluss. “The Padavan law is being abused by this property.”

Also at issue is just how many parking spots the facility needs – which was not settled last night. Monte Nido representatives never specifically addressed how many parking places would be necessary but a simple count of 14 staff members plus visitors would likely mean a minimum of 25 parking spaces would be needed.

The 1978 state Padavan law, promoted by the late New York State Senator Frank Padavan of Queens, was passed to help establish smaller group-home settings for people with mental-health conditions after large mental institutions like the Staten Island-based Willowbrook developmental center and Letchworth Village, were shut down.

The law, which Town Attorney Conway said has never been successfully challenged in New York, applies to facilities that provide a residence to four to fourteen mentally ill people that provide on-site supervision, and is operated by, or subject to licensure by the New York State Office of Mental Health (“OMH”). The law defines these facilities as community residential facilities.

Facilities like Monte Nido, which was founded in 1996 and has 31 facilities in 12 states, including six in New York (and one in New City), must provide written notice to a town that includes the proposed location and the facility’s functions.

Within 40 days of receiving notice, Clarkstown had three options: (1) approve the site; (2) suggest at least one alternative site within the town’s jurisdiction that is suitable to accommodate the proposed facility; or (3) object to the establishment of the facility on the basis that, when taking into account other like facilities in the area, there will be such an over concentration of facilities that the nature and character of the area would become substantially altered.

Hoehmann at several points said the nearest residential facility was at least a mile from the proposed eating disorder treatment facility. However, the town council did not conduct an independent search for alternative sites, officials said.

Susan Perzigian, an Orangetown resident and real estate agent, said she’d done research and found several properties ranging from three to seven acres with similar-sized homes, within the county.

“There are definitely other options,” she said, adding that 324 residents had signed a petition objecting to the planned facility. “There’s got to be a better location.”

Representative from Monte Nido said they’d scoured the county and could not find a better alternative.

“You’ve taken their word that this is the best site,” said Mike Splaver, in an emotional plea to the town council. “Have you looked at other locations?”

If a town recommends an alternate site, the facility has up to 15 days to accept this site or reject it. Where a disagreement persists, OMH will intervene and render a decision on the appropriateness of the municipality’s alternate site suggestion.

When the municipality chooses the third option, and objects to the facility outright, OMH will conduct a hearing within 15 days to determine if the proposed facility will in fact create such an over-concentration of facilities that it would alter the nature and character of the area. The law also allows for judicial review of any decision by OMH.

Clarkstown was not required to hold a hearing on the proposal but chose to voluntarily even though it was clear from the start that town officials would greenlight the plan. But Hoehmann said the applicant still had to go to the Architectural and Historic Review Board, as well as the building department.

“This is extremely difficult,” Hoehmann said. “The town board is limited. We’d have to spend tens of thousands of dollars. No board member believes challenging this location is appropriate.”

But he added that the applicant will be asked questions about screening, security, and to create a forum to communicate with residents.