By Dustin Brown
The chairman of Community Board 13 has ordered a nonprofit children’s services organization to halt renovations on a planned group home in Laurelton for girls from troubled families amid strong opposition by residents who contend the area has been saturated with such residences.
“I absolutely want to ensure that nothing is going to happen on the premises that is going to advance installation of this group home,” said board Chairman Richard C. Hellenbrecht.
Two representatives of the non-profit group Safe Space were invited to the Monday evening meeting when board leaders learned the organization had begun renovating a house at 224-05 138th Ave. as a group home without informing the board in writing.
“How do you start doing renovations on this home without even putting notices out to the community?” demanded Kimberly Francis, a neighbor in Laurelton who plans to mount a fight to prevent the home from opening.
“We have to apologize for the notice not going out,” responded Paulette Plummer, a clinical supervisor with Safe Space.
Although many residents showed up at the meeting to voice their opposition — which they did with vocal outbursts during the nonprofit group’s presentation — Hellenbrecht halted public comment on the issue after only Francis had spoken because he said the Safe Space representatives were not sufficiently informed to address the community’s concerns.
“I don’t see what purpose it serves to sit here and ask questions that we don’t have answers to,” Hellenbrecht said.
The chairman demanded that renovations on the property cease immediately pending review by the community board. He also said he would contact the Administration for Children’s Services to “find out how this proceeded as far as it did without notification of the community.”
The house, which has already been rented by Safe Space, would serve as a diagnostic center for 10 girls ages 12 to 17. They would live under strict supervision for about 90 days, and then be evaluated by staff to determine an appropriate placement.
“Our role is to find out what the problem is in the family,” Plummer said.
Although residents acknowledged the need for such homes, they decried the organization for failing to inform the community, which they said is already saturated with group homes. Community Board 13 covers a large area stretching from Glen Oaks to Springfield Garden and Rochdale Village.
“We want to help our own and help the people in Queens, but we don’t want to be overburdened,” said one member of the board.
“We do have a number of group homes,” said District Manager Sally Martino-Fisher. “I think we have more than our fair share in this community board.”
Plummer responded that the homes run by Safe Space blend into the neighborhood without being noticed by residents.
“We’re in communities and people don’t even know that we’re in communities,” she said.
Homeowners were worried that an influx of group homes in the area would bring down property values.
“It’s a matter of being able to protect the homeowner, and we do have a fear of group homes in the area that are going to devalue the property,” said Bess DeBetham a representative of City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton). “I love kids, but at the same token, we want to protect our investment.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.