Details allay fears of planned group home

NIVERVILLE — The temperature of Kinderhook Town Hall was chilly Monday night thanks to the recent demise of the building’s boiler, but the atmosphere was just as cool when residents of Old Post Road stood up at the October Town Board Meeting to question the executive director of Devereux New York.

John O’Keefe had just given a presentation about the satellite group home that Devereux plans to open next spring at 1374 Old Post Road in Valatie, which is currently a private residence. The Devereux Foundation operates centers in 11 states, providing educational and clinical support services for children and adults dually diagnosed with developmental disabilities and psychiatric and behavioral disorders.

A half dozen residents of Old Post Road attended the meeting to find out how the group home might affect their neighborhood. They asked questions ranging from “How many children and staff members will be on site?” to “What is the possibility of expansion?”

Mr. O’Keefe, Devereux New York executive director said five students will live in the Kinderhook group home with three staff members supervising during the day and “one or two” staff members overnight. The students will be driven by van to Devereux New York’s main campus in Red Hook every morning for classes and will return in the afternoon after classes adjourn.

Mr. O’Keefe said the property was ideal for five students — with several acres of “buffer zone” — and “…contrary to what you might expect, there is no financial advantage to expansion on the site.” He also said that there is no cost to Kinderhook residents for the students’ care, because their tuition and housing is paid by Medicaid, and if federal funding is ever revoked, state law requires a student’s “town of origin” be responsible for his or her schooling.

Old Post Road resident Tim Farley said he had done some research, and to his surprise, there is no conclusive evidence that group homes affect the property values in their neighborhoods. Mr. Farley — who said he lives across the street from the home — asked several questions, including how the property will be maintained.

Mr. O’Keefe said Devereux has its own property maintenance staff, which also subcontracts some local services.

Some Kinderhook residents were concerned about the age and training-level of the staff members. Mr. O’Keefe said the minimum age for staff was 21, but Devereux looks for staff with as much experience as possible. The staff members go through two weeks of in-house training before working with the students, whose ages range from seven to 21.

Old Post Road resident Phyllis Teal asked how the students might interact with community.

Devereux New York Director of Community Services Krista Scibelli said the students will have limited social interaction with the Kinderhook community. “Most likely socialization will be limited to saying ‘Hi’ to the neighbors,” she said.

Resident Donna Bertrand asked if Devereux might consider creating a neighborhood board, giving neighbors access to Devereux staff.

“We don’t generally have a neighborhood board,” said Ms. Scibelli. “But we like to have an open dialogue with the community. We make the residence manager known, and if a member of the community has a problem, they can call that person directly.” She added Devereux will host an open house before the home opens, inviting neighbors to meet the staff.

Town Councilman Peter Bujanow asked what the community might see near the group home.

“I hope it looks like any other house on the block,” said Mr. O’Keefe. “There will be traffic in and out during the school day, but much like any other house with children in the neighborhood.” He added there will be three staff vehicles, plus the school’s van, parked in the driveway, but “most activity will be inside the home.”

Mr. Farley suggested the town replace the weathered “Children Playing” sign near the home and also consider lowering the speed limit to 30 mph on that stretch of Old Post Road.

By end of the question-and-answer session the atmosphere in Town Hall had warmed up quite a bit — “Welcome to the neighborhood,” said Mr. Farley. Unfortunately the actual temperature in the building just kept getting cooler without a working boiler.

In other business, the Town Board considered bids for replacing the boiler and approved a bid for new plow equipment for one of the town’s trucks.

The board voted to return the $60 permit fee charged to Friends of Kinderhook Dog Park to build a fence around the new dog run. It also approved a request to set the annual dog park fees at $25/year for each dog owner, beginning January 1, 2011. Permits will be issued by the town clerk starting next month.

The board also set two public hearing dates. The public hearing for comments on the Town Budget will be Thursday, November 4 at 7 p.m. A public hearing for the local law which allows the Town Clerk to issue dog licenses will take place Monday, November 8 at 7 p.m.

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