Corporation Withdraws Bid to House Adolescent Eating Disorder Patients in Irvington Residence

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West-Clinton-Irvington-Eating-Disorder-PAGE-1Proposal for 16-room home at 65 West Clinton Avenue in Irvington drew ire of neighbors. Photo by: Barrett Seaman

Less than 48 hours after an announcement by Irvington’s Village Board of Trustees that it would hold a public hearing in early August on a proposal by the Malibu, CA-based Monte Nido Corporation to buy a 16-room house at 65 West Clinton Avenue and use it as a residence for adolescent girls in treatment for eating disorders, the company withdrew its offer.

The cancellation came amidst a growing furor among West Clinton Ave. residents, many of whom feared that this—a second such facility within a quarter of a mile of Monte Nido’s existing sanctuary on South Broadway—would, as one resident put it, brand their neighborhood as “the Group Home district of the river towns,” reduce their quality of life and depress property values.

Monte Nido’s decision to withdraw averted what could have been a nasty battle pitting home rule against a state law that grants mental health facility operators broad powers to circumvent local zoning regulations.

When Monte Nido, which runs similar homes in California, Oregon and Florida, first informed Irvington in December 2013 that it intended to transform a 10.5-acre private estate at 100 South Broadway into a home for up to 14 adult patients, hardly a murmur of dissent was heard. That was in large part due to the provisions of a 37-year-old New York State statute, known as the Padavan Law, which allows any mental health facility serving 14 or fewer patients to bypass local approval processes and effectively squelch “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) opposition in order to serve the greater good of alleviating strains on the state’s mental health hospitals.

The dearth of opposition to 100 South Broadway was also due to the absence in the area of similar facilities, such as halfway houses for recovering addicts or homes for special needs patients, which are also protected under the Padavan Law.

Convincing state mental health authorities that the presence of such a home would constitute an over-concentration that would alter the character of the neighborhood is one of only two ways a New York State municipality like Irvington can stop a qualifying institution from setting up shop in its jurisdiction. The other would be if the village could identify an alternative site in the area that would be more suitable than the one selected. Even then, if the village were to object, the State Commissioner of Mental Health has the authority to overrule and grant permission to operate. A review of case law by one West Clinton resident suggested that, to date, every community objection has been overruled.

In the end, there were only muted expressions of concern about traffic, and the first Monte Nido facility sailed through unscathed. Indeed, the polished presentation of company founder Carolyn Costin left most Irvingtonians pleased that Monte Nido would be serving a public need—and paying taxes to the village.

It also helped enormously that the 100 South Broadway estate was virtually insulated from its neighbors, bounded by Broadway to the east, Memorial Park to the north, the Old Croton Aqueduct to the west, and a leafy stretch of West Clinton Avenue to the south. Up and running since last October with a full house of 14 in residence for three-month stays each, the 100 South Broadway facility has since garnered zero local attention.

“The question I get most is, ‘Has that place opened yet?’” said Director Vicki Kroviak Grieder, who last February took over as CEO of Monte Nido. That quiet contentment with an erstwhile invisible enterprise ended in mid-July, when the Irvington board announced that Monte Nido was now proposing to buy the West Clinton Ave. home, initially offered at $3.9 million by owners Roger and Maryon Noble. The company planned to use it for eight adolescent (aged 13-17) patients living there for three months stays.

The Noble property was particularly attractive to Monte Nido “because it has off-site—and out of sight—parking,” explained Grieder, an 11-year Irvington resident herself. “What made the Noble house stand out was its elevator and enormous hallways. It would be relatively simple to make it ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant, which was not true for other sites.”

What made it a bad choice from the standpoint of neighbors was that it was closely surrounded by private homes. As news of the impending sale circulated among neighbors via e-mail, anger grew steadily. Their collective ire was directed at “a for-profit enterprise, exploiting mental health law to raid a neighborhood,” as one resident put it. Messages reiterating the same set of fears about “security issues, increased traffic, parking considerations, not to mention adding a commercial enterprise in the heart of our community,” poured into the e-mail boxes of trustees, one of whom, Kristen Woll, is herself a resident of West Clinton.

Though the board merely announced on July 20 that it would hold a public hearing on the matter on August 6, more than two weeks hence, residents filled the village’s public meeting room. Some protested the short period allowed for consideration; others urged the village to demand reasons why alternative sites were not chosen. West Clinton resident Richard Chenel, citing traffic, pollution, noise and congestion, said it was “not fair to the community to concentrate these two units within 1,500 feet of each other.” Internist Juliette Provenzano-Gober, noting that she worked with a similar population of patients, said she had “never seen a facility such as these not increase [the burden of services] on municipalities.” She also wondered what guarantees there were that this facility would remain dedicated to adolescents and not morph into a home for troubled adults.

Privately, some residents wondered how comfortable they would be holding backyard barbecues in sight of young girls with serious food issues.

Even before opposition galvanized, Vicki Grieder had expressed concerns about community reaction. “ I live here,” she said. “I don’t want any ill feelings about us.” She was in California on company business at the time of the meeting, but her husband Steven was present and reported on what he had heard. The decision to pull the plug came quickly.

Monte Nido will now explore the possibility of expanding on its 100 South Broadway facility or looking for a suitable property elsewhere in Westchester. Proximity to New York City is a factor because of the pool of mental healthcare talent there. Moreover, Westchester County, with its concentration of high-income, high-achievement families, remains a breeding ground for eating disorders.

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