East Quogue Neighbors Concerned About Proposed Rehabilitation Facility

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Homeowners on Sunset Avenue in East Quogue are upset that a California-based rehabilitation facility intends to open a treatment facility for adolescent girls with eating disorders on their residential street.

The Center for Discovery, formally known as Discovery Management Incorporated, bought the two-story brick house at 3 Sunset Avenue in June for $1.8 million, according to town records. The company, which boasts 30 facilities nationwide, typically assists women and teenagers with eating disorders, teenagers with mental health disorders, and teenagers with substance abuse issues, according to its website. Their facilities are all sited in residential neighborhoods.

The East Quogue facility will treat only local teenage girls who are suffering from eating disorders, according to Alexia Mowry, director of clinical outreach for the Center for Discovery. She explained that the company prefers siting its facilities in residential neighborhoods so the girls being treated can be close to their families during the recovery process.

“We’ve had a lot of clients with eating disorders in that area,” Ms. Mowry said of the company’s decision to open a facility in East Quogue. “And there are no adolescent eating disorder programs in New York.”

Southampton Town Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone explained that the company can legally purchase a house because of a state law that permits rehabilitation facilities to override preexisting zoning.

“This facility is designed to have eight clients at a maximum,” Mr. Zappone said, noting that the patients will be living in the home while receiving treatment. “And it’s a residential facility, so there won’t be a lot of day [traffic].”

Still, Sunset Avenue homeowners—who found out on their own that the facility was opening in their neighborhood—said they are uncomfortable having such a center on their block. The discovery prompted 12 of the homeowners to hire Andrew M. Lieb, an attorney with Lieb at Law in Center Moriches, to help them learn more about the Center for Discovery and its parent company. The homeowners have also written letters to Southampton Town officials asking that they intercede to prevent the facility from opening on their street.

When reached this week, Mr. Lieb declined to comment on his research, explaining that it is his firm’s policy not to discuss open cases.

“I just want to stress the fact that the people on this street who are concerned are concerned with how it’s going to affect the character of the street,” said Art Solnick, who lives on Sunset Avenue.

Mr. Solnick, who lives directly across the street from the future facility, said he was the first of his neighbors to learn the news. He said he was good friends with the prior owner—town records state that the house was owned by Thomas Bertorello—before being sold to the Center for Discovery.

“The whole thing is weird,” said Gary Podhaizer, who also lives on Sunset Avenue. “The biggest issue is that the town hasn’t made this public. It seems like they’re trying to hide it, which concerns me.”

Most of his neighbors also think that the town, and the company, purposely kept them in the dark, which is why they hired Mr. Lieb and asked that he write letters to the Center for Discovery and Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

The first letter, dated October 9, was sent to the Center for Discovery’s New York headquarters in White Plains. It requested that company officials meet the homeowners to discuss their plans and urged them to maintain the residential character of their community when they move in. The company has not yet met with its future neighbors.

The letter to Ms. Throne-Holst, dated October 20, reminded her that although the state can legally override its zoning in certain situations, the town still has some control. Mr. Lieb noted in his letter that the town has 40 days to object to the proposal once an application is filed and suggest other locations for the facility.

But Mr. Zappone noted this week that the application was filed in April, suggesting that the window has long since closed. Center for Discovery officials opened communications with the town nearly a year ago, according to Ms. Mowry, who noted that the new facility is expected to open next year.

In his letter, Mr. Lieb also points out that the town could object to the facility if there are too many similar centers already operating in the general area. Presently, there are three treatment facilities within five miles of the Sunset Avenue facility: the Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre Chemical Dependency Services in Hampton Bays, and the Long Island Center for Recovery, also in Hampton Bays.

But Mr. Zappone pointed out that there is no saturation of such rehabilitation facilities in the community, noting that the closest one is more than a mile away. Also, he pointed out that the facility, Long Island Center for Recovery, does not treat young women with eating disorders.

“There is a proximity condition under the law,” he said. “If there are a certain number of facilities, the town can step in. That is not the case here, however.”

The dozen homeowners also penned their own letters and delivered them to all five Town Board members, including former Councilman Brad Bender who resigned last week after his arrest on federal drug distribution charges. As of earlier this week, the homeowners have not gotten a response from any of the town officials, they said.

“While we are sympathetic to the needs of the future residents of this facility, this facility is not keeping with the fabric of our neighborhood,” reads an excerpt of a letter penned by Larry and Rona Moss of Sunset Avenue. “We feel that there are other areas better suited for this kind of facility other than ours or any other residential neighborhood.”

Mr. Solnick voiced the same stance on Monday.

“I have a sensitivity for this issue,” he said, noting that he is a retired principal with the North Merrick School District. “We just don’t think this is the proper place for a facility. No one has any idea what to expect. All we know is that we have a quiet residential street and now there’s a business on it.”

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