BOSTON — The Boston town board saw its highest attendance for its regular meeting in three years when it convened on Wednesday, March 18. The majority of residents in attendance were present for an item that was not even on the meeting agenda and several of those residents made their voices heard. The board, represented mostly by the comments of Councilman Jay Boardway but also Supervisor Martin Ballowe, expressed its support of the residents in opposing the proposed building of a group home on Omphalius Road and Cole Road, within the town.
According to Town Attorney Mike Kobiolka, the board first became aware of this potential project in the beginning of February. Since then, representatives of the Department of Mental Health were present at the board’s agenda meeting, where the most unsettling information came to light, which, based on the comments of the residents and board alike, has caused the majority of the opposition.
“They are proposing a facility up there that is going to house four mentally impaired individuals,” said Boardway. “On my direct questioning to this gentleman [from the Department of Mental Health] – he was about the most evasive state bureaucrat I’ve ever talked to – we asked if particularly are there going to be sexual predators up there. He said he had to hide behind the HIPPA laws and couldn’t really tell us who was going to be living in that home – just that there were going to be four people living there.”
Boardway continued, “On further questioning, he did go a little bit further with a question specifically on the properties that are controlled by this agency in the town of West Seneca, and his response to us was, ‘Well yeah, there’s been some sexual problems up there, but it wasn’t really their fault because they’re mentally handicapped.’”
The board eventually voted the project down – twice, according to Boardway – but the potential for this project remains. “In no uncertain terms, they have told us, ‘So what?’”
He then said, “We need [the residents] to continue to step up. We’re going to have a semi-public and a public forum where your concerns can be addressed.
“We were given an opportunity to say no to this, and then they’re given an opportunity to appeal. At our agenda meeting this evening, the board informally decided that we are actually going to hire some outside counsel to give us a little bit of guidance, who’s worked with other towns and specifically try to stop this particular project.”
Said Ballowe, “We’re not informed when private pieces of property have been sold. We’re just not. We’re only informed when somebody wants to come into this town and have the intention of building an apartment complex or building a group home, and then they come in and they go fishing, basically, to see if we’re going to approve.”
As of Wednesday, the property remained unsold.
Boardway clarified that the problem is the chance of sexual predators in the community and not disabled individuals. “The board itself, obviously, we think no judgment,” said Boardway. “People Inc. and some of the other agencies that serve disabled individuals in this community – there’s a need for that. We all know that. You can’t completely insulate yourself, but we don’t want the potential even for sexual predators or other disturbed individuals to live in our community in an only semi-supervised environment.”
There are other issues as well that convinced the board to oppose the project. “Additionally, this board, having complete fiscal responsibility for this town, looks at even further issues,” Boardway explained. “These properties get built and they don’t pay taxes. They’re going to sit up there and not pay a dime to this town.”