A full house of interested parties packed the White Plains Common Council chambers Monday night as Sunrise Detox petitioned the council for a special permit allowing it to open a new facility at 37 Dekalb Ave.
Sunrise Detox is proposing a 31 to 33-bed facility that provides treatment for patients suffering from alcohol or drug dependency. Linda Burns, CEO of Sunrise Detox, said the facility will give people the opportunity to turn their lives around.
But would-be neighbors see the facility as a dangerous intrusion into a residential neighborhood.
"Carhart is a neighborhood that is coming up," said Ira Wunder, one of the first of almost 30 speakers to address the board. "We feel that this type of facility goes against maintaining the residential barriers."
Vacant for more than a year, the property at 37 Dekalb Ave. was once the home of the Nathan Miller Nursing Center for Nursing Care, a nursing home that opened in 1962. The nursing home operated under a special permit before closing.
Sunrise Detox's proposal would eliminate about 20 feet from the southern end of the building, creating a larger setback. Renovations would trim about 3,000 square feet from the overall size of the building. The outside of the building would be renovated to fit a residential neighborhood.
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A full service kitchen, administrative offices and recreation room are included as part of the proposal. The number of people staying at the facility would be reduced from about 65 units when it was a nursing home, according to a presentation from Sunrise Detox representatives.
But neighbors who spoke Monday said their primary concern is safety. For many, the proposed facility represents a threat that didn't exist when senior citizens occupied the building.
"We feel this business, for this purpose, is like putting in a nuclear reactor," Wunder said, to a round of applause from the audience.
Burns addressed several concerns during a prepared statement read to the common council. The CEO said patients who enter the facility are not there as a result of a court order, and are not allowed visitors. They also can't carry identification or money during their stay. The average stay at the facility, Burns said, is 5.7 days.
Residents are also concerned that patients can check out of the facility at any time, worrisome for some neighbors who fear for the safety of senior citizens and children.
According to Burns, though, only 4 percent of the 15,000 patients treated at other Sunrise facilities have checked out against the advise of staff. These patients are then transported home, and not sent out into the neighborhood.
"Most individuals seeking treatment are eager for help," Burns added.
This would be the fourth Sunrise Detox facility—there are currently two open in Florida and one in New Jersey. Members of the Carhart Neighborhood Association cited police reports from areas surrounding those facilities, and said they fear a spike in criminal activity in White Plains. One speaker cited a police report from New Jersey, where a Sunrise Detox counselor was accused of secual assault.
Burns told the council that criminal activity within the community has not been a problem at other facilities.
"To our knowledge, no patient or staff member of Sunrise has ever harmed or committed crimes in the communities that we are currently operating while under our care," she said.
Sunrise Detox must receive approval of a special permit in order to open the facility. The council took no action Monday, adjourning the hearing until the next public meeting on Nov. 5.