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04/26/13 8:30am
04/26/2013 8:30 AM
Brendan House in Riverhead

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Brendan House is named in memory of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault.

The vice president of New Beginnings Community Center of Medford had just gotten up to speak at Thursday’s Zoning Board of Appeals continuation of a hearing from two weeks ago, when ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin told him to sit down.

Mr. McLaughlin then asked the audience, “Do we have anyone here in opposition to the Brendan House?”

When no one spoke, the ZBA then proceeded to vote on the resolution unanimously approving the proposed group home for people with traumatic brain injuries.

The community residence, planned for a vacant Sound Avenue farmhouse, would house four people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and may be considered medically dependent, thus in need of around-the-clock care.

Each resident would have an aide, but the aides would work shifts and would not live in the residence themselves.

Under the plan, a barn building that is already on the property would be converted into an apartment for use by the “house master,” who would oversee the facility and serve as backup for any aides who cannot make their shift, the group said.

Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage in the aftermath of being badly burned by an exploding gel candle in his backyard in May of 2011 is expected to be one of the residents of Brendan House.

He has been staying in a children’s hospital in upstate Valhalla for about two years since the accident because no such facility exists on Long Island.

His mother, Nancy Reyer, has been staying upstate to be near her son.

Since the Town Code has no specific category for this type of facility, the application was sent to the ZBA for an interpretation as to whether it is a permitted use in the agriculture protection zone on Sound Avenue.

“It is the determination of the ZBA that based upon existing federal, state and local statutes toward brain work as well as a litany of federal and state court decisions interpreting the same, the community residence to be known as Brendan House, as proposed, meets the definition of a single family dwelling use and the use is therefore a permitted use in the agricultural protection zone,” ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone said in reading the board’s decision.

The separate apartment for the house master is a customary and incidental accessory use to a community residence, the ruling stated.

Following the hearing two weeks ago, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said publicly that he believed the proposed home may be exempt from town zoning under a state law called the Padavan law, which usually is applied to group homes for developmentally disabled residents.

The ZBA ruling Thursday included a condition stating that if the principal use of the community residence ceases, the other building can no longer be used as an apartment.

At the meeting two weeks ago, ZBA member Leroy Barnes had asked to review the town’s entire file on the property and other ZBA members had asked for more specific information about what was being proposed in the building and what uses existed there in the past.

New Beginnings vice president Steve Scerri was unable to immediately provide that information at that meeting.

On Thursday, he thanked the ZBA for the approval.

Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. DeSimone had worked quickly to get all the information needed to make a ruling on the case this week.

Mr. Scerri told a reporter afterward that the group’s next step will be getting building permits and county health department approval.

The renovations needed for the structure should take about four months.

He is hopeful the Brendan House will be up and running by the fall.

Brendan House is named in memory of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault.

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03/24/13 12:00pm
03/24/2013 12:00 PM
Riverhead New Beginnings

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | New Beginnings Brendan House on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

It’s been more than a year since New Beginnings Community Center announced plans to build a group home on Sound Avenue for people with traumatic brain injuries who need long-term care but are too young for nursing homes.

And although a storm-packed fall and winter slowed down fundraising, the effort is still going strong, said the group’s founder.

“Not only are we raising money to put the house up but we’re educating people as well,” said Allyson Scerri, who founded New Beginnings, a Medford-based outpatient center, in 2011 after her father suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident.

Help with renovating the house was redirected due to storm cleanup, she said.

“A lot of our volunteers had prior commitments because of the storm, but I feel that we’re back on track now,” Ms. Scerri said. “I feel like finally now after this long winter we can really get refocused and just plunge right through and get the building up.”

The group has raised $35,000 of the roughly $250,000 needed to renovate the house, a two-story home on Sound Avenue that once served as a refuge for single mothers.

When completed, the 12-bed Brendan House will offer round-the-clock nursing care for those with traumatic brain injuries or other cognitive and physical disabilities as they make their recoveries and learn to live with their conditions.

Michael Hubbard, the Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage after a gel candle explosion two years ago and has since been recovering in an upstate children’s hospital, will be one resident of the home, she said.

Speaking at a meeting last August at the group’s Medford location, Michael’s mother, Nancy Reyer, said the house would be an answer to her prayers. “It’s nothing but the grace of God that Brendan House is going to be two miles away from where I live,” Ms. Reyer said. “If this is not God in the works, I don’t know what is.”

The home will be named in honor of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault. Mr. Aykroyd joined New Beginnings in 2011 for rehabilitation, but he died in his sleep last June.

The group originally planned to open the home this coming June, but Ms. Scerri said they are now shooting for an August grand opening.

While it appears the group has a ways to go to reach its funding goal, Ms. Scerri said the target price tag will likely be much lower thanks to donations of supplies from companies like Home Depot that cut down on construction and renovation costs.

New Beginnings has also gotten support from Riverhead residents. A fundraising drive was held at River-head High School, and Riverhead Rotary Club members have also worked to raise money for the cause.

“The community’s wonderful,” Ms. Scerri said. “Nancy [Reyer] is out there working hard for Michael.”

Ms. Scerri said the town government, specifically the zoning department, has also helped move the project along.

“They’re doing everything in their power to get the permit to us as fast as possible,” she said.

For more information about Bren-dan House, including how to donate, visit the New Beginnings website.

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