Neighbors of a proposed drug rehabilitation center on East 21st Street are outraged that the landlord and center’s operator are moving ahead with construction on the space, despite vocal opposition from community leaders and the lack of a proper license from the state.
The clinic, First Steps to Recovery, is seeking to move its existing operations from Brighton Beach to East 21st Street, saying they’ve outgrown their space. The move requires approval from the state’s Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), who reviews applications to ensure it fits the surrounding community. But the proposal failed to pass muster at a Community Board 15 meeting in November, where the owner was lambasted for being disrespectful, and where a letter written by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz was read, claiming that it’s been a detriment to neighbors in Brighton Beach for years.
But the City appears to have shrugged off the opposition, giving First Steps the go-ahead to begin moving, contingent on further inspections.
Here’s what we reported after the November meeting, in which the Community Board voted against the proposal:
During the hearing for First Steps, representatives for the outpatient addiction treatment clinic explained that they served “elderly” Eastern European patients who have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with the struggles of integration. The clinic dispenses medications and has been operating in Brighton Beach since 2002. They were seeking to move to the 2634 East 21st Street location because their current space is too small.
Members of the Board said the space was on a residential street and too close to St. Mark Catholic School, with few mass transit options. They also showed concern that they were dispensing medication, and only serving patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Chairperson Theresa Scavo also read a letter on behalf of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, who serves as chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, decrying the facility after he made repeated visits and found small crowds of patients gathering outside and smoking cigarettes.
“I have witnessed, first-hand, patients loitering outside the Brighton 12th Street location and I have received numerous complaints from nearby residents expressing a similar theme,” Cymbrowitz’s letter said. “This problem has not been addressed by First Steps’ management. If First Steps cannot successfully prevent its clients from infringing on its neighbors quality of life in its current location, it’s reasonable to expect that a larger facility will only exacerbate the problem”
But the most persuasive argument against approving the Board was the program director himself, Igor Beregnoi, who stood to the side during the hearing. He wore a pinstripe suit and pointed leather shoes with a white t-shirt underneath, and donned sunglasses throughout the indoor, 7:00 p.m. meeting. He argued with boardmembers who questioned him, criticized the group’s competence in tallying the votes, and gave abrupt answers.
But despite the overwhelming “No” vote from the Board and the strongly-worded letter from Cymbrowitz to the state agency, Board actions are solely advisory and the final say goes to the state. It appears the project is moving forward.
Neighbors noticed construction at the East 21st Street site last week, and told Sheepshead Bites that workers confirmed they were working on a drug rehabilitation facility. They mobilized immediately, posting fliers on utility poles and trees throughout the area, alerting their neighbors that the center is coming to town.
Another flier has been distributed door to door, providing contact information for Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and OASAS, urging neighbors to put the pressure on.
But OASAS said they have not yet issued a license to First Steps to move. Instead, the City has given the greenlight.
“First Steps Application seeks to move its currently certified program from 2990 Brighton 12th Street in Brooklyn to 2024 Jerome Ave. in Brooklyn [the alternative address for 2634 East 21st Street]. Based on an assessment of the need for this type of service within the community, and feedback and recommendations received from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, First Steps to Recovery, Inc., was issued a Contingent Approval. The Approval is contingent upon a final inspection and approval of the facility,” a spokesperson for OASAS wrote to Sheepshead Bites.
Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz said he’s fuming that the City has dismissed the concerns of neighbors.
“It’s not a good organization based on their site at Brighton 12th Street and my meeting with them, but I also said to the [OASAS] commissioner that I didn’t think the Jerome Avenue location was an appropriate site. It’s on a residential block, there are 12 apartments with children above it, and the church is so close by,” Cymbrowitz told Sheepshead Bites.
Morever, he noted that the facility’s operator has been less than forthcoming, and the pol ended up throwing him out of his office when he wouldn’t respond to basic questions.
“When we talked about what it is that they do, they didn’t feel that it was necessary to respond, other than to say they’re working with Russian seniors that have alcohol problems. Based on my conversations with OASAS [about the operation], I felt they’re doing much more than that. So I didn’t feel they were being truthful about what they do.”
Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo is quick to note that this is all about location, not NIMBY-ism. She said she recognized the need for drug rehabilitation facilities in the area, but that they don’t belong on residential streets where there’s limited mass transit.
“It’s on a residential block, not near mass transit, it’s not a good location,” she said. “The Board voted no for the right reason.”
She pointed to another vote held the same night First Steps came before the Board, a vote for another drug treatment facility called One World Counseling. The Board threw its support to the facility, despite objections from neighbors, because it was seeking a space in a commercial building on the corner of Kings Highway and East 17th Street – surrounded by businesses and within spitting distance of multiple mass transit options.
Cymbrowitz said he’s scheduled a meeting this week, where he’ll sit down with representatives from OASAS and the City’s Department of Health, which issued the contigent approval. He said he hopes to pursued DOH to pull the approval, and for OASAS to commit to a refusal.
Here’s the full letter being distributed door-to-door near the proposed facility: