Residents say no to Seafield
Residents are outraged by the recent proposal made on behalf of Seafield to convert the decades-old St. Ursula Center convent, owned by the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk and located at 186 Middle Road in Blue Point, into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.
The Ursuline Sisters signed a contract on Nov. 16 with Seafield, an inpatient treatment facility providing detox and rehabilitation, with a 100-bed facility in Westhampton Beach and outpatient service centers in Medford, Patchogue, Amityville, Riverhead, Mineola and Manhasset. A price was not disclosed. The nuns and representatives of Seafield plan to hold a public meeting on the proposal at the convent on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.
The current plan for the site, according to Seafield, is a 76-bed women’s-only inpatient alcohol and drug abuse treatment program licensed by the State of New York Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. The facility will focus on the needs of women and the current Westhampton Beach facility will be converted into an all-male facility.
Local resident Jason Borowski, who has been leading the efforts as a spokesperson against the rehab center locating at that site, said the newly formed Blue Point Civic Coalition began a petition online earlier this week and has already gained the support of about 900 residents.
The petition states that the residents of Blue Point oppose the use of the St. Ursula Center as a drug and alcohol treatment center because of the proximity to the Blue Point Elementary School and the placement in a highly residential area.
The point of sale, Borowski explained, has been that the nuns are at a point where they can no longer afford the space. However, he questioned why suddenly they reached a critical point needing money now. He also stated that the zoning does not allow the facility and should not be permitted. Any change in zone, he said, would put a commercial facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the heart of Blue Point.
“We are not necessarily against a facility like this in Blue Point. We are just against it in this particular location,” he added. “It is irresponsible development and will have long-lasting effects on our community.”
John Haley, COO of Seafield Center, Borowski said, compares Blue Point to Westhampton Beach, but the demographics just don’t add up. Westhampton Beach, he explained, is a much more seasonal community.
Borowski said the group will be showing up to the public meeting with numbers, but are interested in hearing what representatives from Seafield have to say.
Brookhaven Town councilman Neil Foley said he will not support a zoning variance to allow the facility to open at that location, however, there have not been any applications made to the town as of yet.
Foley said he has since received hundreds of complaints from residents. The site, he explained, which is zoned A-1 residential, would need a change of zone for that type of use.
“I do agree Seafield needs more beds to combat this war on drugs, but they have to do it with better placement and location, not in a quiet residential area. They can’t ask residents to accept a 78-bed rehab center,” he said. “I support what they do and I am willing to work with them to find a location, but I do not support it here.”
Still, according to Haley, signed contracts with the sisters to purchase the 8.2-acre property are moving forward despite needing a zoning variance. However, the variance, he said, depends on what they want to do with the site; for the current proposal a variance is needed, but for a sober home, which he says is more disruptive to a community, no zone change would be required.
A typical stay at his rehab center, he said, is 19 days, depending on insurance. Once a person is checked in they must remain at the facility until checked out. “No one is allowed to leave the grounds. If we catch anyone doing drugs or sneaking drugs into the unit or having any physical altercation or leaving the grounds, they are discharged,” he assured.
The opioid crisis on Long Island is in demand for facilities like this, according to Mark Epley, Seafield CEO. He said, the Westhampton center is currently at 97 percent occupancy and has a waiting list for over two years. The new facility, he explained, would help reduce that list. According to Haley, over 1,000 constituents in Foley’s district alone have utilized Seafield’s services since 2015.
“For the people who say they don’t want drunks and drug addicts in their community, they already are,” Haley said. “There is an epidemic going on. People are dying.”
In the ‘80s, when they first tried to locate in Westhampton Beach, it was disputed, but since being there, he said they are now known as a good neighbor. However, he said, Seafield is happy to work with the community to see this project happen.
“We plan to be a good neighbor,” he added. “ We do it right because we care about people. I lost a father to the disease of alcoholism and this has been my life’s mission ever since.”
The nuns, according to sister and province leader Joanne Callahan, have owned that property since 1935 and in its heyday operated with about 100 sisters on-site. That number has since dwindled due to their aging population, making costs to maintain the property too high to keep up. Of the about 14,15 nuns left, she said, they were placed in nearby assisted living facilities run by fellow sisters.
Callahan said they are happy to keep women as part of their mission. “We believe that the women who come here for rehabilitation will find serenity, peace and healing — as the Ursuline Sisters have since 1935,” she said, but said she is sad to see it go. “It was a very sad decision because most of us thought we would end up living out our days there, but the decision needed to be made. It’s the end of an era, but we are hopeful it will be something.”
Meanwhile, the Bayport-Blue Point Library’s proposal to turn the site into a library is still awaiting the completion of a feasibility study. The library has been exploring the St. Ursula Center as an option for the proposed new library site but is also evaluating their current facility. As of September, the board approved the study but acknowledged the lengthy process. According to library director Michael Firestone, he expects that report to be in early 2018, which would determine whether or not that site is a possibility.
“I wish we had the opportunity to complete the process and get to the point where the community could decide, but they are already in contract to sell to someone else,” he said, explaining how the library is far from the point of potentially purchasing the property.
The library, according to Haley, would bring more than double the amount of daily visitors as opposed to the about 150 daily visitors the rehab center would bring. Plus, he said, the library would raise taxes, whereas the center would be on the tax roll. The center, he added, would also bring in about 100 high-paying jobs.
Still, a library, according to Foley, is a much more welcomed use of the space.
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