By Alexander Dworkowitz
Community Board 7 overwhelmingly voted to approve a plan to transform a rundown Whitestone house into a home for autistic adults at its Monday evening meeting despite some opposition from neighbors.
The board voted 36-3 to allow the Astoria-based organization Quality Services for the Autism Community to open a group home for seven autistic adults at 149-36 12th Ave. in Whitestone.
“I can only assure you that the agency will run [the home] perfectly, pristinely,” said John Frank, a member of CB 7 and an employee of AABR, a nonprofit that runs group homes for the mentally retarded.
The Whitestone house has sat vacant for years. QSAC, which operates eight group homes in Queens and one in Nassau, plans to move the residents from their cramped Rego Park to the larger Whitestone address.
The home is next door to the Immanuel Lutheran Church, which rents its space to QSAC for a school.
The plan has already won approval from the state, according to QSAC administrators.
Community Board 7 had the option of suggesting another location for the site or arguing that the neighborhood was oversaturated with group homes but could not flat our reject the plan. The nearest group home is about a mile away, said CB 7 member Arnold Wagner.
Criticism of QSAC's plan focused not on the content of the home but on the organization's finances.
Some questioned QSAC's decision to spend $270,000 to renovate the dilapidated home that it was leasing, not buying, from the owner.
“I want to first say, everybody deserves a right to live in this community,” said Kim Cody, who lives on the block slated for the home. “The problem I have with this proposal is that my tax dollars are going to be used for a privately owned home.”
Cody's wife, Marlene, echoed her husband's sentiments.
“We can't understand why the state would spend so much of our money at this time, when everybody is having such a tough time.”
Others worried the home would increase traffic on the block. QSAC administrators have said the home might actually decrease traffic, since employees at the neighboring QSAC school can use its long driveway.
Phyllis Valenti, a representative of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, called for an investigation of QSAC's finances.
“We are requesting this project be put on hold until an investigation is conducted by the appropriate state agency and the attorney general,” she said.
The voices against QSAC's plan were countered by parents familiar with the organization.
Norman Goldman, a Whitestone resident who called autism an “epidemic,” said the $270,000 to repair the home was a relatively low amount compared to the money needed to take care of autistic children like his son.
“My son Colin alone uses $250,000 of your tax money every year,” he said.
Goldman assured the board that autistic children and adults make good neighbors.
“These children are well trained. They have been since preschool. They are not out of control kids.”
Francis Sferrazza, a College Point resident with a son in one of QSAC's nine other homes, praised the organization.
“I've been involved with them for many years. They have been very good to my boy…. I don't think you can do anything better for your community than allowing an organization such as QSAC to come in.”
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.