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Pleasantville Neighbors Decry Assisted Living Proposal

Maple Hill Road residents expressed quality of life concerns at a community meeting Wednesday.

Increased traffic, a polluted view and disrupted wildlife were among the major concerns expressed by Maple Hill Road residents who attended an informal meeting hosted by Benchmark Senior Living on Wednesday.

Representatives from the Massachusetts-based company invited locals who surround the United Methodist Church to a presentation about a proposal for a "high-end" 87-unit assisted senior living facility that would be built on the three-plus acres of currently vacant property adjacent to and owned by the church.

"As you know, the church is in very serious financial condition," Jack Purdy, president of the church's board of trustees said at the start of the hour-long meeting. "We must sell some or all [of the property] in order to finance our survival here."

Purdy said the church's leadership has been looking for a buyer that has a purpose in mind "consistent with our church charter" and "which fits in the neighborhood."

Benchmark is currently in contract with the church for the purchase of the property.

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While Purdy defended the idea of an assisted living facility on the property, the area residents who spoke out throughout the meeting felt differently.

"How is this different than a hospital?" inquired one woman, who said she doesn't live in the immediate neighborhood, but sympathized with others at the meeting.

"I don't like this at all," another man chimed in, prompting murmurs of agreement throughout the church hall. "I should tell you that now."

Anthony Guccione, an architect with John Meyer Consulting, said the proposed 24,000-square-foot building would come with 61 parking spaces, but only 30 employees would be at any given time.

Given that few residents would likely drive, the building would be "a very low generator of traffic," Guccione stated.

According to Benchmark's Director of Project Management Bill Cook, 87 is the average age of the company's residents across its 47 properties in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. This property would be the company's first in New York State.

Theresa Scuccimarri, a Maple Hill Road resident, said she was concerned about the wildlife in the area.

"I am an animal lover," she said. "I have deer that visit me every morning. What are you going to do about the deer? You are ruining their natural habitat."

David Steinmetz of Zarin & Steinmetz, the law firm representing Benchmark, reiterated throughout the evening, "Nothing has been filed with the Village of Pleasantville [yet]."

He noted the village must lawfully require developers to undergo studies such as environmental impact and traffic studies before granting approval.

The current proposal calls to maintain the two curb cuts on Maple Hill Road. Guccione said access via Route 117 rather than the all-residential street had not been considered yet.

Monica Strobel, a 34-year resident Maple Hill Road, asked whether Benchmark would ever consider expanding its facility, if approved.

"Bigger is not necessarily better," said Cook.

Residents were also critical of the high fees associated with Benchmark's typical residences—which Cook said usually run between $4,000 and $6,000. The company does not accept Medicare and Medicaid. This information prompted some residents to say they or their parents would "never" be able to afford to live in the Benchmark facility, contradicting Cook's claim that the company looks to place its residences in areas of high demand.

One resident said the facility would likely cause a decrease in property values for neighbors, which Guccione said would not be the case.

Another neighbor said many homes look down on the church property, giving them a view of homes and trees. The facility, she said, would taint the view with "a parking lot and truck deliveries."

"I go visit my parents at a facility like this, and when I go at night, the building is lit up like a Christmas tree," Strobel said, calling the proposal "visual pollution."

Residents seemed frustrated with the lack of answers to questions about traffic ("We are a walking community," Strobel noted) and environmental impacts, which Steinmetz reiterated would be answered during the village-led approval process.

One man, who said he has lived in the area for 30 years, even asked how much it would cost Benchmark not to build the facility.

"You are polluting my world," he said. "There's no benefit for us here, whatsoever." 

But the comment that led to the biggest outcry of the night came from a parishioner who stood up and asked, "How many of the neighbors from Maple Hill have ever gone in on that property? Your kids? How many have children who have used it as a playground? How many have children who have used it to drink beer, have sex and fire paintballs at our walls?"

Several residents shouted out, calling the woman's comments offensive.

"You are way out of line...very insulting," said Strobel.

Added Scuccimarri, "I think you are way out of line because the children on our block all grew up to be well-respected adults...what an insult!"

While Benchmark's representatives said they would look into many of the issues brought up by residents, as well as learn more about the potential impacts through the due diligence process in the village, neighbors seemed unconvinced at the end of the meeting.

"I understand there is a need for senior living," said Strobel, who later stated she was completely against the proposal, "but you are impacting our way of existence. You have to understand that this is significant to us."

The Benchmark team will share their proposal with the full Pleasantville board of trustees on Monday at an 8:30 p.m. work session.

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