By: Sharon Aron Baron
A mysterious letter appeared in the mailboxes of the Oakwood community letting them know that one of their homes would be converted into an assisted living facility – and could very well become a future drug or alcohol rehab house with no provisions regulating the disposal of hazardous waste.
Resident Greg Brown said he received the letter from his neighbor Marlene Reed. When we contacted her, she explained that she received the anonymous letter in her own mailbox. Reed, who lives four houses away from home on the 700 block of NW 100 Lane said she was concerned about an assisted living facility moving in, and was angry the city had nothing in their code to let nearby residents know.
“It’s a wide-open thing and the city has no formal notification for the residents,” she said.
She was also concerned the owners would change it to something else once they set it up as an assisted living facility.
“It’s under a huge umbrella,” she said. “You can be called an assisted living or a group home. Those two words can be many, many things. You can have a drug and alcohol rehab, hospice, or parolees in a halfway house.”
Built in 1979, the home, located south of Atlantic Boulevard and west of University Drive, was purchased in 2000 by its current owners who now live out-of-state. Having difficulties selling it this past year, they leased it to Alex Dominguez and Associates, a provider of residential services. Dominguez told Coral Springs Talk that he had no plans to turn it into a drug or rehab house.
“That is going to be a group home, and truthfully that is where I want to leave it.”
He said the ages of the children that will be placed in the home will be between 13 and 22. He stressed that a 22-year-old may have the same interests and function as a 13-year-old and they all would have autism and related disabilities. The maximum capacity is six in any home, and there will be an average of three people on staff. Depending on sleep habits, there would be 1-2 adults with them at night.
According to the City of Coral Springs, the home is protected by the Fair Housing Act which states that facilities that house disabled or handicapped individuals are generally not required to be licensed by the State.
Resident Michelle O’Leary is concerned that it will affect the value of their homes with the extra traffic it would receive from multiple people living there when they receive visits from doctors, nurses, people picking them up, or for medication deliveries.
“It brings traffic into what is supposed to be a community for families,” she said.
Dominguez, who has a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis said that the State places the children with disabilities, which includes autism and related disabilities, in the home because there are needs for these types of families, making the community residential treatment setting necessary.
“The parents aren’t discarding them. They need specialized placement. These are not children who are psychotic or drug abusers,” he said. “They [parents] place these kids and they love them and it’s a very difficult decision when they place them. They take them out for visits, but they just cannot have them full-time. It’s hard.”
Dominguez said they try to give these individuals a quality of life in a community-based setting and do not disrupt the community-at-large. The State only recommends children to this type of setting only if it fits them.
Coral Springs, which permits group homes, currently has eight through various agencies. Dominguez’ agency is the provider for three. The city’s zoning requirement states there cannot be two within 1,000 feet from one another. Another stipulation is that all homes must have working sprinklers and fire alarms which Dominguez anticipates the building department to clear within the week.
He believes the home in Oakwood will start housing individuals in a few months, however, would not start at full capacity. First, they would start with referrals, then analyze those referrals to find the appropriate placement.
“I’m concerned,” said O’Leary. “ I have an eight-year-old daughter and we don’t like the traffic as it is because people have a tendency to go fast – and there are little kids. So putting in more traffic for people that don’t know there are kids living on the block, that’s not good for our kids.”