When the neighbors of a recently opened group home for people with developmental disabilities on Rapids Road in Newstead first heard about the facility opening, they were receptive to having the human services agency in the neighborhood.
Just over a month later, however, neighbors have changed their position.
Problems with cars parking on the side of the road, several emergency calls to the home and news that a convicted sex offender was living in the home have all created tensions. Combine that with worries about declining property values, and residents near the home are less than happy with People Inc., which sponsors the home.
People Inc. “just force-fed it down our throats without talking to us about it,” said Joseph M. Dugan, a 23-year Army veteran who lives next door to the home with his wife and family.
While many on the rural stretch of road knew that a group home was going into the house, neighbors said, they had no idea that a sex offender would be among the residents. Now they have become worried about what other residents of the six-bedroom home might be a cause for concern.
“This is something we’ve never had to worry about,” Dugan said. “We don’t know who’s in there.”
Michael J. Adymy, who also lives next to the home with his family, had moved to Newstead to live in the country and get away from the problems found in more populated areas. He’s starting to see those problems crop up now.
“We’re uncomfortable,” Adymy said. “We moved out here to get away from it all.”
Mark P. Outten, who lives across the street from the home, said he isn’t against People Inc., just how the organization went about putting the group home in.
“I’m not saying that People Inc. is all bad,” Outten said. “They do have some fantastic stuff going, but I think they did us way wrong. They didn’t care about us at all when they did this.”
Residents living near the home shouldn’t worry about safety, said Rhonda I. Frederick, chief operating officer of People Inc., noting that the home is staffed “24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
“Each resident has an individual service plan, and we provide the supports they need,” she said.
The state began closing developmental centers due to pressure from the federal government in 2009, Frederick said, with the Monroe Developmental Center being the latest to close in 2013.
“The Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities worked with the folks who were living in the developmental centers to ensure they were ready to live in the community,” she said. “We certainly wouldn’t want anyone who’s not ready for community living out there.”
Frederick also pointed out that the home was opened in compliance with all “applicable laws,” including the state’s Padavan Law, under which group homes operated by agencies such as People Inc. are zoned as a single-family residence. That means they don’t need the approval of a municipal board to start up.
Once an agency such as People Inc. notifies the town of its intent to place a group home in a location, the town has 40 days to provide a suitable alternative or argue that it changes the character of the neighborhood.
“The Padavan Law really protects against discrimination of people with disabilities,” Frederick said. “It makes it difficult to say you don’t want a group home in your backyard.”
As for the site of the group home, Frederick said that the home is close to another newly opened home on Buckwheat Road and that the individuals living in the two homes are friends. The home is also near the families of the individuals, she said.
As for the parking problem, Frederick said, People Inc. is working to remedy that, and plans to increase its parking area once spring comes.
In regard to the sex offender living in the group home, Frederick said, he completed everything that was required of him by law. She contrasted that with other sex offenders in the community who go undetected.
The sex offender was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse in May 1993. His victim was a 4-year-old girl. He spent 2½ years at Wende Correctional Facility before being paroled in 1996. He is registered as a Level 2 offender – which the state defines as posing a “moderate” risk – on the New York State Sex Offender Registry.
Dugan’s wife, Elisa, who said she was abused when she was younger, isn’t satisfied with People Inc.’s reasoning for allowing the man at the group home.
“People Inc. said he’s never offended again,” she said, becoming emotional. “The truth of the matter is that pedophiles offend again. I can vouch for that.”
Residents first raised concerns at the Newstead Town Board meeting last Monday, and the board formed a committee, composed of Councilwoman Marybeth Whiting and Councilman Justin M. Rooney. Two residents living near the group home on Rapids Road will join a resident living near a newly opened People Inc. group home on Buckwheat Road on the committee, as well. The committee will meet at 6 p.m. today, before the regular board meeting in Town Hall.
A Facebook page, titled “Keep Akron Safe,” was also created to keep concerned residents informed about the situation. The page has garnered over 400 “likes” in just under two weeks.
The Town Board was first notified of the group home in May 2013, Rooney said.
The understanding on the board at the time was that the house was going to be just like a People Inc. home on Bloomingdale Avenue in the Village of Akron, which has been a part of the Akron community for years. That home is occupied by the developmentally disabled, but not sex offenders.
At that time, Rooney said, board members discussed the Newstead home and decided that they did not have any reason to question its opening.
“It wasn’t for us to weigh in on,” Rooney said.
Communication between People Inc. and the town should have been better, he said.
“If they’re going to move in a registered sex offender into a neighborhood with children, let us know,” he said, noting that he did not find out that a sex offender was living in the home until almost two weeks ago.
In hindsight, Rooney said, questions should have been asked by the board.
“In the future,” he said, “anything like this will be rigorously questioned.”