ARMONK, N.Y. -- A proposal to use an Armonk residence for an adolescent mental-health treatment center is being met with a fiery backlash from neighbors.
The residents worry that the project will lead to an influx of drug dealers and traffic, imperil their water supply and lower their property values.
Neighbors slammed the proposal, which is for 14-16 Cole Drive, at a Nov. 30 North Castle Town Board meeting that was marked by some crosstalk and interruptions. The gathering lasted for more than five hours and concluded after 1 a.m.
The proposal is from Paradigm Treatment Centers, a California-based company that treats teenagers for depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Paradigm, which runs a facility in Malibu, is seeking to treat minors for the former two conditions in Armonk but not for the latter, an assertion that neighbors do not believe.
The proposal, according to representatives, calls for treating eight patients at a given time, who would be between ages 12 to 17. The center would operate with three staff shifts: from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. There would be no more than 10 staffers present per shift, according to Jerri Anna Phenix, who is Paradigm's executive director for the east coast.
Parking would be kept at 10 to 12 vehicles at a given time, Phenix said, with up to 15 spaces available. Patients would not be allowed to drive, she added.
The proposed center's house has a prominent owner.
Public records show that the house, which is a mansion set back from a gate and a large lawn, is owned by Theodore Mathas, who is the CEO of insurance giant New York Life.
Mathas and his wife, Keryn, purchased the mansion, which is at 14 Cole Drive, in 2004 for $3.6 million, records show, and acquired 16 Cole Drive in 2012 for $1.16 million.
Mathas tried to sell the property last year when he listed it on the market for $5.995 million, according to a real-estate profile in The Journal News, which can be read here. However, records show that in August, Mathas transferred direct ownership of the property to a company that he owns, which is called Crossroads Farm, LLC.
Records also show that Mathas' company entered into a two-year lease with Paradigm, which took effect on Sept. 1. Paradigm, under the lease, has an option to buy the property for $5.65 million. The option expires on Feb. 28, 2018, according to a records filing. The documents indicate that Mathas no longer uses the home as his primary residence.
Paradigm will not admit teens who have a history of bullying, aggression, criminal records, destruction of property or who have a “primary substance abuse” issue. Patients will be subject to constant supervision from staff, she said, noting that those expressing suicidal tendencies will be removed.
Phenix explained that Paradigm will provide support for high-achieving students who face depression or anxiety amid stressful environments.
“You know, children put a lot of pressure on themselves, and these kids are looking for a safe place where they can breathe and let their walls come down and work to heal.”
Skeptical neighbors focused on how Paradigm may still admit patients who have “secondary” substance abuse.
Dr. Gurjeet Dhalau, a Tarrytown psychiatrist who is serving as a consultant to Paradigm, explained that secondary abuse involves teens who self-medicate to cope with behavioral-health problems, meaning that they consume small amounts of alcohol or marijuana. These teens stop once they receive actual medication, she explained.
Dhalau, at the meeting, argued that there are not any sufficient facilities in the area for her patients. The alternatives, she noted, include hospitals and place to stay that can lead to academic disruption. Paradigm, by contrast, aims to help teens continue with their studies; the average patient would stay for 30 to 45 days, Phenix noted.
Residents also took issue with Paradigm's website initially promoting the proposed facility as a substance-abuse center.
Robert Brenner, an attorney with Nixon Peabody LLP, described his client's online material as “a marketing blunder,” which was met with incredulous laughter from the audience.
“It wasn't intended to be presumptuous or anything like that,” he added.
Brenner argued that the proposal is subject to New York State's Padavan Law, which governs facilities for behavioral health and group homes of the disabled. Under the law, Brenner explained , the center is counted like a residential place, and thus is compliant with the house's zoning.
The Padavan Law gives the Town Board a 40-day clock before it has to decide whether to support the project or to object. If the board chooses to object, then the project would get a hearing from a state commissioner, who would issue a decision on whether it should go forward.
Joshua Grauer, an attorney with Cuddy & Feder LLP, has been retained by the neighbors. He told Daily Voice that representation is through a newly formed group called the Davis Pond Conservancy.
At the meeting, Grauer voiced similar concerns as his clients. He was also highly skeptical of Brenner's assertion that the website material was posted mistakenly.
“You cannot have 50 pages of mistakes and nobody can explain that away.”
Resident Hope Taitz fears that a neighborhood pond will be a focal point for potentially suicidal patients and that the center would put police and firefighters at risk.
“There are many, many risks to this community and I will not take that risk,”
Several of the neighbors also come from prominent healthcare backgrounds. Among them is Mitchell Roslin, who works at Northwell Health, which is the parent company of Northern Westchester Hospital.
“This is a residential neighborhood that you are coming into, that we live in,” said Roslin, who has surgical and business-development backgrounds.
Roslin warned that he would try to get his employer to drop Nixon Peabody from its list of firms in response to its work for Paradigm. He also bluntly voiced his belief of what the proposal entails.
“This is a drug-treatment center for rich kids, or else you would be in every other town across the United States.”
Neighbor Keith Safian, a former CEO of Phelps Memorial Hospital, was among several who were skeptical about whether the Padavan Law even applies to Paradigm's proposal. He also noted that the house, which is about 100 years old, is not designed for the proposed use.
Expressing concern about whether the facility can properly accommodate mental-health treatment, Safian asked for the board to object, adding that everything should be done to “avoid a tragedy on Cole Drive.”
Resident William Potvin worried that the center would lead to “drug dealers wondering in our neighborhood” and that police would become burdened
Fellow resident Robert Rattet worried that the project would cause septic failure that would contaminate a shared acquirer used for drinking water.
After using profanity to describe the notion of excrement coming down a hill near his house, Rattet clarified by saying, “How about 'fecal matter runs down hill!'”
Brenner told the board that data pertaining to traffic count and septic would be submitted. The board is scheduled to revisit the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14.