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Trustees to address opposed/supported Morris Lane eating disorder center

By JASON CHIREVAS

With the house at 2 Morris Lane currently scheduled to become the latest facility for a California company specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees will take up the matter Nov. 24 with vocal opposition to, and support for, the facility already sprouting from residents.

Malibu-based Monte Nido plans to use the house at 2 Morris Lane, situated on a 2.13-acre lot and currently featuring four bedrooms and five bathrooms, to accommodate up to eight girls with eating disorders between the ages of 12 and 18 on an inpatient basis. The company said the facility’s residents will be staff supervised at all times and continue their educations at the expense of their home school districts while they receive treatment.

Other precautions the company said it will take to avoid impacting the surrounding neighborhood’s character include no signage labeling the facility, staff accompanying residents any time they leave the property and accommodating all of the center’s parking needs onsite.

In business since 1996, Monte Nido was acquired last year by Levine Leichtman Capital Partners, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm.

The new facility will not require a zoning variance pursuant to New York state’s 37-year-old Padavan Law, which allows a mental health facility servicing fewer than 14 patients to largely avoid local municipal approval so long as it meets state codes. Residents are still allowed to officially voice their opposition to such a proposed facility, but it can only be moved on the basis of an oversaturation of such facilities in the proposed area or if an alternative location can be found within the municipality to host the facility.

Once a proposed facility governed by the Padavan Law is made known to the applicable municipality, the community has 40 days to file an official protest to it. Mayor Jon Mark said the village was notified of Monte Nido’s intentions Oct. 28.

Nancy Turett, a communications and stakeholder engagement consultant working with Monte Nido, said the house at 2 Morris Lane is currently under contract.

Monte Nido’s other facilities are located in Malibu; Eugene, Oregon; Boston and Irvington, New York. The company initially intended the facility currently proposed for Scarsdale as its second in Irvington. Public outcry — as well as what Monte Nido said was its determination the building it was considering was not set back far enough from the street— followed that announcement and the company withdrew its plans for a second Irvington facility in August.

Although Monte Nido officials attempted to address neighborhood concerns at a Nov. 15 meeting at the Scarsdale Library, assuring the nature and level of oversight of the proposed facility’s residents, critics of the 2 Morris Lane sale have cited broader concerns.

Lisa Botvin is a 10-year resident of nearby Heathcote Road. She said the for-profit nature of Monte Nido’s operation could be an ill fit for a residential neighborhood in which one could not, for example, operate a medical practice from one’s home.

“My objection is the town has not had time to analyze whether this is an appropriate place for this facility,” Botvin said. “There’s no transparency. [Monte Nido] is pushing this through.”

To that end, Botvin said she’d like the village to study the effects the eating disorder center could have on traffic along Heathcote Road, which she said is already compromised by development in the area.

“No doubt we need facilities like this,” she said, “but we need to know if this is really the place for this facility to go.”

With respect to potential traffic concerns, Monte Nido CEO Vicki Kroviak said the comings and goings at the eating disorder facility would be akin to those of any other family that might live at 2 Morris Lane.

“Our chefs shop at local groceries and farmers markets and bring [food] to the residence when they come to work in their cars,” Kroviak said. “The residents do not drive, and the staff and families who drive in and out will do so with a volume and timing that makes it indistinguishable from the activity at our neighbors’ homes.”

The CEO added trips to public places like movie theaters, malls and restaurants for the center’s residents would appear as any supervised outing inclusive of teen girls would to the outside observer.

Factors like traffic and the presence of a treatment center in a neighborhood could, in the opinion of some critics, have an adverse effect on property values of the homes surrounding something like the proposed Monte Nido facility. A Scarsdale real estate expert who did not wish to be identified said that is likely to be the case in the area surrounding 2 Morris Lane.

“I must disclose to anyone I want to sell a neighboring house to that there is a group home over there,” the expert said, adding the increased traffic in the area could contribute to lower property values and change the character of the neighborhood.

The expert said the sale price of 2 Morris Lane, $3.5 million, is markedly less than the $5 million value the village’s 2014 revaluation placed on it, which could also damage the value of the surrounding houses.

Should it be installed at 2 Morris Lane, Mark said the Monte Nido facility would contribute to the village’s tax base through regular property taxes.

While critics have raised concerns the mayor said would be heard at the Nov. 24 joint meeting of the trustees’ Law and Land Use committees, not everyone in the village sees the Monte Nido facility as a negative.

One resident, who spoke to the Inquirer anonymously to preserve the privacy of her daughter, who has suffered with an eating disorder, said, in her opinion, the concerns she’s heard expressed are largely unfounded.

“They’re creating all this buzz over something they think is going to impact their ability to sell their house,” the resident said, “but there’s no evidence that’s the case.”

The resident said traffic concerns specifically should not be a problem once the Morris Lane facility is established.

“There’s going to be eight girls who don’t drive. There’s going to be, at most, six employees at the place; they will shuttle them to and from the train,” she said. “There’s something like a three or six car garage, plus a huge driveway and it’s set back. There’s not going to be any traffic. I have more traffic when I have a mah-jongg game at my house.”

Monte Nido officials said the Scarsdale facility will feature six to eight employees present during the day, two to three overnight.

Although the Padavan Law limits the alternatives available to the village — and Monte Nido has declined to extend the 40-day window to file an official protest — Mark said the trustees will give the issue its due Nov. 24 at village hall.

“I think we have to listen and assess what’s being told to us by [Monte Nido] and what they’re going to do,” he said. “Once we do that, we’ll consider what we should or might do.”

Kroviak and Turett both said they will be in attendance at the Nov. 24 meeting. Kroviak said Doug Bunnell, Monte Nido’s chief clinical officer, will be there as well.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

November 20, 2015