2001-10-20 / Front Page

Planned Housing For Mentally Disabled Draws Bayswater Community’s Anger

By Howard Schwach

Planned Housing For Mentally Disabled
Draws Bayswater Community’s Anger
By Howard Schwach

A plan to develop an apartment building for use by more than 40 mentally disabled homeless patients nearby Bayswater Park has sparked a controversy in the community.

In a letter to the Department of Mental Health, Ralph Farkas, president of PSCH, a private firm that provides services to city agencies, the firm set out its planned development.

"…this letter informs you that PSCH plans to develop an apartment building with 44 service-enriched studio apartments at the above referenced location (29-54 Beach Channel Drive)," Farkas writes. "We are planning to build a new apartment building which will serve 44 men and women who are mentally disabled. Tenants will be referred from PSCH, other transitional housing programs, in-patient facilities, emergency rooms, and transitional shelters. They may be formerly homeless or at-risk of homelessness."

While nobody denies the need for such housing, the plan has set off a firestorm of opposition from a number of local community and civic organizations.

Letters of protest have been sent to both the company and to the city’s mental health agency by such groups as the Bayswater Civic Association, the Deerfield Area Association, Community Board 14, and the Frank Avenue Civic Association. In addition, similar letters have been sent on behalf of those communities by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins.

"Though we understand the plight of the mentally disabled, our association is strongly opposed to the constructing this facility," Gloria Warshofsky, the president of the Bayswater Civic Association, wrote to the Department of Mental Hygiene. "Our association objects to the granting of approval for this facility on the grounds that the site is located within five blocks walking distance of numerous schools and youth facilities, including Bayswater Michaeles Park, the Island Child Development Center, Far Rockaway High School, PS 104, and the Bayswater playground and park."

"This will set up a domino pattern for the area," Steve Cooper, the president of the Frank Avenue Civic Association and a member of Community Board 14, told its members. "It is adjacent to the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area. People planning on buying homes in that area will look to see what is in the neighborhood. It is across the street from our busiest park, a park where hundreds of children play on a hot afternoon."

Rosemary Murray, the chairperson for the community board, wrote of her opposition to Farkas.

"Community Board 14 strongly opposes your plan to build a facility at 29-54 Beach Channel Drive," she wrote. "Our community board is the most impacted community board in the City of New York. Within our boundaries we have more that six thousand adult home and nursing home beds as well as 400 drug treatment and juvenile delinquent beds. The location you propose is across the street from our largest community park. It is our strong position and that of the community we represent, that we have done more than our fair share to house those in need."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer added her voice to the controversy.

"As a resident of Bayswater, a member of the Bayswater Civic Association, a resident of Rockaway for more than 45 years and the Assembly representative for the area, I am uniquely aware of the devastation that a facility at this location would cause for our community," Pheffer wrote to the State Department of Mental Health. "We are not stating that we do not want it in our backyard. We are simply saying that our backyard is full."

Despite the community’s ire over the development proposal, however, the housing will probably be built.

"Because this is a state-funded facility, they have the as-of-right ability to build it despite community opposition," CB 14 district manager Jonathon Gaska told his board. There is no discussion with the community, no ULURP process. They don’t even have to tell us that they are building it."

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