Town of Tonawanda residents seeking to challenge the siting of a respite facility for developmentally disabled children were told Monday by town officials that there are no legal grounds to do so.
Last week, the Town Board received a letter and a petition asking board members and the town’s legal department to request a state commissioner’s hearing on the recent purchase of 52 Dixon Drive by Community Services for the Developmentally Disabled. The nonprofit agency plans to offer an after-school respite program on weekdays and overnight care when the facility opens next spring.
Under state mental hygiene law, once a municipality is notified about an agency’s plans, it has 40 days to approve the site, suggest alternative locations or object to it because it would create a concentration of such facilities in the area. That period expired last Wednesday.
“We believe that the people purchasing the house are biased,” said James Shirley of Dixon Drive, who was among the letter’s signers. He claims the agency bought the home before notifying the town of its plans and, for that reason, would have no reason to consider alternative sites.
The specific closing date on the property transaction and its relevance in the process or to Shirley’s accusation couldn’t be learned Monday night.
“Unfortunately, that bias issue is not a remedy to ask for a hearing,” said Town Attorney John J. Flynn.
Flynn said the Dixon Drive site wouldn’t create a saturation of such facilities in the neighborhood. And the town suggested alternative locations to the agency, which the agency found not viable for various reasons. “All [the reasons] were legally sound and reasonable,” Flynn said. “We have absolutely no legal basis to request a hearing.”
Residents say their quiet neighborhood isn’t the right place for the facility. Increased traffic and limited off-street parking remain a concern, as does the plan to offer after-school job and housekeeping training for teenage clients making the transition to adult living situations. Residents’ opposition “has nothing to do with the kids at all,” Shirley said. “It’s the principle; what [Community Services] did.”