Representatives of a nonprofit organization planning to open a group home in Riverhead for victims of traumatic brain injuries appeared before the town Zoning Board of Appeals last week.
New Beginnings Community Center, which is raising money to renovate a vacant Sound Avenue house that had been donated to the nonprofit, needs an interpretation from the ZBA on whether the long-term care facility is a permitted use. The town code doesn’t make any mention of such facilities.
ZBA members, rightfully, had some questions on the application, and are planning to undertake a fact-finding mission to learn more about the property, how it’s been used in the past, and whether a secondary structure on the land is suitable as a residence for a “house mother.” That person would live on-site and serve as backup to the trained aides who will be hired to care for medically dependent residents.
There is a true need for such a facility in town — and similar facilities across Long Island. One need look no further than the circumstances of Nancy Reyer of Riverhead and her son, Michael Hubbard, who suffered brain damage after a gel candle explosion in May 2011.
Since then, Michael, who needs constant care, has been living at Blythedale Children’s Hospital upstate because there are no large facilities on Long Island for medically dependent children or young adults. All large assisted living facilities in our area are only for the elderly.
So nonprofit groups such as Angela’s House — which runs three facilities for medically frail children in Suffolk — and New Beginnings of Medford have stepped in to fill the void. New Beginnings has already promised space for Michael, should the facility get up and running.
Riverhead ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone and ZBA members are not to be vilified for requesting more information and asking that the nonprofit representatives come back April 25. That’s their responsibility.
But it’s hard to imagine the board ever finding anything of substance to preclude New Beginnings from building its facility, so ZBA members should be cautioned against getting caught up in nit-picking and minutia, as government boards and attorneys are wont to do. As New Beginnings deals with the town and its local laws, fundraising efforts are underway to purchase pricey medical equipment and staff the facility, while also renovating the house. These efforts have already been slowed by Hurricane Sandy and subsequent winter storms. If potential donors come to believe the group might be having trouble with the town, and building plans stall, they might be reluctant to open their hearts and their wallets.
The ZBA and, moving forward, other town departments and officials should make it a priority to facilitate all dealings with New Beginnings — and get things moving. Every day accident victims like Michael Hubbard have to live away from loved ones is regrettable.