Stories

Undeterred by Sandy, Coney Island adult home aims to expand

For a facility on the boardwalk, new beds will bring more government funds — if a zoning change prevails

Like its neighbors along the Coney Island boardwalk, Oceanview Manor Home for Adults was seriously damaged after superstorm Sandy rushed in on Oct. 29. Staff reported that the home off Surf Avenue suffered major flooding and broken windows; the storm destroyed office equipment and cut power. Residents, most of whom have severe mental illness, weren’t allowed to return for a month.

And after all that, the home is looking to not just rebuild, but expand.

The Coney Island boardwalk and its neighbors took a direct hit from superstorm Sandy. Photo: Sarah Whites-Koditschek

Oceanview has submitted a proposal to the city to add 24 beds to its current 176-bed residence and enlarge the building by more than 12,000 square feet, which would increase the square footage by over 33 percent.

Though Oceanview’s expansion plans were submitted to the city well before Sandy hit, they could face a new kind of scrutiny, given the widespread damage to buildings along the boardwalk.

Chuck Reichenthal, district manager of Community Board 13 in Coney Island, called the timing of the proposal “amazing.”

Reichenthal said he didn’t yet have a strong opinion about the proposal, and would withhold judgment until Oceanview had presented its case to the community board.

“One of the questions will probably be, is this the time to build more buildings while we’re still in the fog of getting rid of this? I don’t know,” Reichenthal said.

Oceanview Manor, as pictured on the facility’s rezoning application to the city.

It appears unlikely that Oceanview administrators have any intention of modifying the expansion plans. It submitted a required environmental statement to the Department of City Planning on Nov. 9, less than two weeks after Sandy hit.

Though the plans acknowledged that the home is located within a federally designated flood hazard area, they misidentified its designation. The documents state that the home is in Hurricane Evacuation Zone B, which means residents have a moderate threat of being evacuated during a hurricane. In reality, the city’s Office of Emergency Management designates all of Coney Island as Zone A, where residents are at the highest risk of being evacuated in the event of a hurricane, and were under evacuation orders in advance of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 as well as Sandy this year.

Shelly Weizman, a disability and aging rights attorney at MFY Legal Services Inc., has a separate set of concerns with Oceanview’s expansion, which re-designates dozens of adult home beds to become part of an assisted living program. (The state Department of Health has already approved the conversion.) Residents in these beds would need a higher level of care than those in an adult home, and would also bring in more money for Oceanview, in the form of Medicaid benefits: up to $127 per day, or nearly $4,000 per month, per resident. Currently, for most residents, the facility receives $1,208 per month each in Supplemental Security Income.

Weizman says she is not confident assisted living residents would be properly cared for at Oceanview.

“It’s on a list of [adult] homes that have long been problematic,” she said of the facility, citing its repeated Department of Health violations and a federal class action lawsuit that MFY brought against the facility in 2005.

The suit, which was settled in 2007, charged Oceanview with withholding residents’ required monthly allowance, which is drawn from their public benefits. Weizman says even after the suit, her office still regularly receives complaints from residents about continued problems accessing their money, and staff members being disrespectful to residents.

“We don’t think the health department should reward facilities with histories of violations and ongoing problems with Medicaid beds,” Weizman said. “That makes no sense.”

Lisa Rosenfeld, administrator and part owner at Oceanview, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the New York World.

In order for the Oceanview expansion to get underway, a long list of city officials will have to review it, including Borough President Marty Markowitz, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The community board’s recommendation is advisory, while the City Council’s vote would be binding.

Councilman Domenic Recchia, Jr. , whose district encompasses Coney Island, declined to comment on Oceanview’s expansion proposal in advance of the community board’s public hearing on the rezoning proposal.

“I think we’re just going to wait and see how the community board reacts to it,” said Ashleigh Owens, a spokesperson for Recchia, adding that a “long process” would have to be completed before the decision came to a vote.

The community board hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, December 19, but cancelled with short notice. Reichenthal said that a lawyer from Oceanview called him to cancel the meeting, saying they weren’t ready to present. Oceanview now has until January 22 to make its case to the community board.