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Village will oppose teen eating disorder facility

By JASON CHIREVAS

In a unanimous vote ratifying an announcement from Mayor Jon Mark that was met with shouts and applause from most of the 150 people in Rutherford Hall, the Village of Scarsdale Board of Trustees sent a message to the owners of proposed adolescent eating disorder treatment facility: Find some other backyard.

“It is the intention of the board to file an objection to the Monte Nido proposal,” Mark said, “on the grounds of overconcentration and any other grounds that might exist, if any.”

Malibu-based Monte Nido, a for-profit company with eating disorder treatment facilities in four states — the nearest in Irvington, New York — intended to use the house at 2 Morris Lane as its latest place to house women, in this case girls age 12 to 18, while they receive treatment. Company officials said the Scarsdale facility would be home to up to eight girls at a time, each of whom would stay at the facility for about three months.

Monte Nido’s Irvington facility services adult women with eating disorders who are free to leave the facility at will. The adolescent residents of the Scarsdale facility would only leave 2 Morris Lane under the supervision of Monte Nido staff, according to the company.

In order to establish its facility in Scarsdale, Monte Nido was required to give notice of its intent to village officials pursuant to the 37-year-old Padavan law, a New York statute that allows residential mental health facilities, so long as they house no more than 14 residents and meet state standards, to exist in residential areas of a municipality without a zone variance. Under Padavan, a municipality has 40 days from the date of notification to file an objection to the mental health facility in question, but may only do so on the grounds the proposed area is oversaturated with such facilities, or if the municipality can propose an alternate site within its borders for the facility.

Scarsdale is going with the former.

“The board does not feel it appropriate to suggest Monte Nido move its facility from one Scarsdale neighborhood to another,” Mark said.

Whether or not the Monte Nido facility was appropriate for 2 Morris Lane, or anywhere else in Scarsdale, was the topic of a joint meeting of the trustees’ Law and Land Use committees Nov. 24. Two lawyers — Joshua Grauer, of White Plains-based Cuddy & Feder, represented a group of neighboring residents opposing the facility; David Steinmetz, of White Plains-based Zarin & Steinmetz, appeared for Monte Nido — argued their respective points of view before the board. The rest of the capacity crowd of about 200 people in Rutherford Hall consisted of village residents and other interested parties, most opposed to the idea of an eating disorder treatment facility in what’s known as an estate area of the village.

Although the terms under which a proposed facility like Monte Nido’s can be challenged are limited and defined by the Padavan law, most of the opposition voiced Nov. 24, from both Grauer and the audience, dealt with other matters.

In urging the trustees to take all the information available to them into consideration before rendering a decision to allow or oppose Monte Nido’s application, Grauer touched on two things that were recurring themes throughout the meeting: the length and width of the driveway at 2 Morris Lane and the size of the staff servicing the facility’s residents, along with the traffic resulting from its comings and goings.

2 Morris Lane is a flag lot, which is a parcel in which the house lies at the end of a long driveway. In this case, Grauer said, the driveway at 2 Morris Lane is 200 feet long and an easement-reduced 12 feet wide. It is also the primary means of egress to the property.

At an informal Nov. 15 meeting at the Scarsdale Library designed to educate residents about its operation, Monte Nido officials said there would be six to eight staff members in the proposed Morris Lane facility during the day and two to three at night.

However, as Grauer pointed out, the company’s website indicates the staff-to-resident ratio is 6 to 1. Opponents of the Scarsdale Monte Nido center said this means more than 40 staff members could be coming and going from the facility at a time, further congesting traffic in an area already suffering from backups. Monte Nido officials said the total number of staff members is divided into shifts, and none of them would generate more traffic in the area than a single family living at 2 Morris Lane would.

Citing the potential for suicide, acute depression and other such emergencies, the traffic caused by emergency personnel trying to access the house at 2 Morris via its long, narrow driveway was also an issue for resident opponents. But Emmarose Turett, who was treated for an eating disorder at a facility in Utah like the one proposed for Scarsdale, said residents of such facilities must already be clear of obstacles like the dangerous effects of deep depression before they can live in a residential treatment setting.

Emmarose Turett’s mother, Nancy, is a communications consultant and health advocate who also spoke Nov. 15 in favor of the Monte Nido proposal, but was shouted down when she suggested no one gets into health care facilities to make money.

Although he said his clients’ opposition to the proposed eating disorder facility was not “a referendum on Monte Nido,” Grauer said the center would ultimately change the character of the neighborhood too much to be allowed.

Mark Hauser, one of Grauer’s clients, had a different meaning of character in mind.

“This is not about charitably helping young girls,” Hauser said. “This is about the character and truthfulness of the applicant, how they do business and it’s all about the selection of the 2 Morris location.”

Hauser said he was concerned with what he said was a lack of information in Monto Nido’s application and the timing of the meeting, two days before Thanksgiving, which Hauser believed was meant to help Monte Nido “ram through” its application.

Pursuant to the Padavan law, Steinmetz notified the village of Monte Nido’s intentions in writing Oct. 28.

Hauser said Monte Nido is not a “well-meaning group” and its for-profit nature is what drives it.

“They are focused on generating cash flow,” he said. “If that means charging more for their facility, if that means cutting costs, cutting services, so be it.”

Pointing to Monte Nido’s parent company — Los Angeles-based private equity firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners, which acquired it last year — Hauser said it “wouldn’t surprise” him if Monte Nido’s management had stock options available to them for use when the business is eventually sold.

As for the house at 2 Morris itself, which Monte Nido is under contract to buy for $3.5 million — $1.5 million less than its assessed value — Hauser said he thinks, given the conditions of the market, Monte Nido will sell the house within four years, making this, in his opinion, “a real estate play.”

Grauer’s written communication to the village opposing the Monte Nido facility doesn’t make substantial mention of Hauser’s profit or real estate concerns.

Not every village resident present Nov. 24 was opposed to the proposed treatment center. Former Scarsdale Forum president Robert Berg said he supported the facility itself, and the village has little latitude available to it in making an objection.

“[The Padavan law] is specifically designed and enacted to encourage and allow facilities just like this in residential neighborhoods,” Berg said. “It recognizes the NIMBYism problem. No one has ever succeeded in challenging a home like this.”

NIMBY refers to the not-in-my-backyard attitude homeowners historically tend to have when confronted with an addition to their neighborhood they see as undesirable.

Berg urged the trustees not to fight what he saw as a losing battle in opposing Monte Nido on Padavan grounds. Instead, he said, the trustees should “do the right thing” and encourage facilities like Monto Nido’s, which he said Scarsdale needs as much as any community in lower Westchester.

“[Padavan] is a very strict law, and it needs to be strict because, otherwise, none of these facilities would ever be built anywhere,” Berg told the Inquirer, adding, with respect to area neighbors’ traffic concerns, “I don’t expect there to be much traffic. A lot of these people in Heathcote — they have gardeners and chefs and nannies coming all day. The idea that there will be a lot of traffic at this particular location is a joke. A lot of those people fancy themselves as wonderful liberals as long as it doesn’t directly affect them.”

During the Nov. 24 back and forth, Mark asked Steinmetz directly more than once if Monte Nido would consider extending the 40-day time frame to allow the village to gather more information. There was never a definitive public answer to those questions and, after two executive sessions — during which the trustees consulted with Village Attorney Wayne Esannason — Mark announced the board’s objection, which was memorialized by a 6-0 vote. Trustee William Stern was absent.

Now that the village has decided to object, Mark said it will notify state Commissioner of Mental Health Ann Marie Sullivan of its objection before Monte’s Nido’s 40-day Padavan notice period runs out.

Once the objection is made, the village or Monte Nido can request a hearing before the commissioner or her designee that must occur within 15 days of the request. Both sides present their cases at the hearing and the commissioner then has 30 days to render a decision in the matter.

For Monte Nido’s part, CEO Vicki Kroviak said the company remains committed to the proposed treatment center.

“We are steadfast in … providing Monte Nido residential care for adolescent girls in areas like lower Westchester, where there is a high, unmet need,” Kroviak told the Inquirer. “Our proposal … is fully within the spirit and letter of the Padavan law, and we were surprised by Scarsdale Village’s objection.”



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 27, 2015