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Plan to House Disabled Adults in WaHi Condo Scrapped After Residents Object

By Lindsay Armstrong | September 26, 2014 5:34pm | Updated on September 29, 2014 8:40am
 Residents of 2360 Amsterdam Ave. said that the building is not suitable for people with disabilities.
Residents of 2360 Amsterdam Ave. said that the building is not suitable for people with disabilities.
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DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A nonprofit that places developmentally disabled adults into residential buildings throughout the city has withdrawn its plan to buy a duplex unit in a luxury Washington Heights condo building after an outcry from residents, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Community Options Inc. told DNAinfo on Thursday that it withdrew its application to place four clients into a penthouse duplex at 2360 Amsterdam Ave., also known as the New Amsterdam, after more than a month of resistance from the community, including arguments that it was unsafe for the disabled. 

The seven-story building near 177th Street overlooks Highbridge Park and features amenities such as a landscaped courtyard, a roof deck with views of the river, private parking and a security system, according to StreetEasy.com.

“We have withdrawn our application because it doesn’t meet ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance,” Christopher Thompson, the executive director of Community Options, said Thursday.

Thompson's decision follows a series of contentious meetings in front of Community Board 12 over the organization's plan to move into the building.

The controversy began at a Sept. 4 Housing Committee hearing where lawyers and condo board members claimed that their building was too mold-ridden and dangerous for disabled people to live there.

Adam Leitman Bailey, a lawyer representing the residents, told the board that the building was not safe for residents with special needs, because of ongoing leaks, mold and structural problems that resulted from shoddy construction work by the developer.

He added that the building was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act because there is only one handrail on the staircases and the stairs are too steep. In addition, the railing on the balcony of the unit being considered for the disabled tenants is not high enough to comply with ADA standards, he said.

"He claimed it is not even safe for someone who is not disabled," the board noted in its minutes of the Sept. 4 meeting.

There are five open violations for mold complaints at the building, according to the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development website.

The Department of Buildings has dismissed or resolved all complaints it received, save for two paperwork-related boiler violations, according to the agency's website.

Bailey saidt the condo owners sued the developer over the construction problems and got a settlement, but the condo board's manager told CB12 that the developer went "missing" after the judgment was handed down.

The building's developer, Jose Espinal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The details of the settlement were not clear.

Christopher Thompson, the executive director of Community Options Inc, noted at the Sept. 4 meeting that residents who would occupy the unit are able to walk and are not dependent on wheelchairs.

In addition, an architect for Community Options had evaluated the unit and ensured him that they could make renovations to ensure the safety of the residents, including installing hard-wired alarms and water temperature monitors, as well as to make the unit ADA compliant, Thompson said.

But on Sept. 23, the full board at CB12 passed a resolution objecting to Community Option’s application — saying the group had not provided sufficient information on the number of other units for disabled individuals in the neighborhood. 

They also said they had concerns about the suitability of the building for disabled residents and recommended that Community Options re-submit a more detailed plan.

"No determinations of the units' safety and sanitary conditions could be made," the board wrote.

Disability advocates say that agencies often face resistance when trying to create community homes for the disabled in residential buildings.

“I think there’s a lot of fear on the part of the community and a lot of concerns in terms of property values,” said Edith Prentiss, a CB12 board member, adding that she was not speaking in her official capacity.

Prentiss said that, in the future, she would like to see more education in the community to help people warm to the idea of group homes for people with disabilities that are integrated into residential buildings.

“For a momma or grandma to be able to get on the A train and come see their baby — even if the person is 28, that’s still their baby — instead of having to trek out to a facility in Long Island is important,” she said. “We need to think about how to integrate these homes into our community.”