By Sadef Ali Kully
South Ozone Park Civic Association West and three neighborhood residents filed a class action suit in Queens Supreme Court Tuesday against the property owner and the future operator of a juvenile justice facility on 127th Street.
The suit comes after a year of growing concerns and disputes played out in Community Board 9 and 10 meetings from nearby residents about the safety of their homes, families and property value if a second juvenile home is developed in the neighborhood. The facility would be run by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services under a state initiative. ACS said it would continue to address residents’ reservations about the project.
The suit names KAD of Queens LLC, a business, and the Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services, the provider formerly known as the Episcopal Social Services. The complaint cited Patrick Khan, who has said he sold his the property to KAD some time ago after a hubbub at a Community Board 9 meeting in February, but he is not a defendant in the case.
The court complaint alleges that the property owner has continuously disregarded city, state and federal regulations and if the project is allowed to proceed, then an immediate injunction will be sought to halt both the development of the facility and its programs.
The first juvenile facility, a non-secure home, is located on 133-25 128th St and the second location, a limited-secure home, is under construction a block away on 133-23 127 St.
“An ACS contractor blindsided our community three years ago by placing a non-secure Close to Home facility in our neighborhood without prior notification. Now, by proposing to open one of its six limited-secure facilities only a block away from the non-secure one, ACS has added insult to our injury,” said Anthony Gellineau, president of South Ozone Park Civic Association West.
In 2012 the state introduced Close To Home, a juvenile justice reform program to help non-violent youth offenders transition into productive citizens.
The legal action taken by neighborhood residents has the support of Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica).
“Since 2011, these proud citizens have been saddled by the city with responsibilities they never asked for and left to cope with the unintended consequences of those actions. They’ve done more than their share, but now they’re at the end of their rope,” Wills said about the building violations against the home. “ACS has addressed neither their concerns nor mine, particularly about the property owner and architect’s non-compliance with existing laws.”
Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services has 40 facilities across the city.
“We are disappointed to learn of the lawsuit. In collaboration with Sheltering Arms, our goal is to provide a safe and stable environment for young people to receive residential rehabilitation services while in our care, while also ensuring the safety of residents and the surrounding community,” an ACS spokesman said. “We are committed to continuing conversations with community leaders and elected officials in Queens and South Ozone Park to ensure that they are fully briefed on our plans and that we address their concerns.”
The state Office of Family and Children Services must approve all plans for these juvenile homes in consultation with the state Office of Mental Health and the Office for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. Later, Family Court determines whether the youth offenders should be sent to juvenile detention or sent to a residential facility.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull