Community Board 15 voted in favor of permitting one drug rehabilitation center in the neighborhood, but voted down another, saying that the owners’ attitudes made all the difference.
At the November 27 meeting, the Board gave the nod to One World Counseling, a newly-formed entity proposing to develop a drug and alcohol abuse treatment center at 1670 East 17th Street, just off Kings Highway. The Board’s 31-4 vote came just minutes after nixing plans of an existing center, First Steps to Recovery at 2990 Brighton 12th Street, to move to 2634 East 21st Street, with a no vote of 34-1.
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.
That was the same attitude he showed Scavo and Cymbrowitz at a prior meeting between the three, Scavo revealed in a statement to the Board after the vote.
“The assemblyman and myself said to them, ‘It seems like you have a crowd standing outside, smoking, flicking ashes.’ The doctor got up and proceeded to call the assemblyman and myself liars,” Scavo said. “You saw his attitude here, with the dark sunglasses, that’s how he came to a meeting trying to ask us to support, sitting there with those dark sunglasses and he wouldn’t even take them off during the meeting. And you saw his attitude here.”
One World, she said, was the total opposite. During a meeting before the hearing, One World’s rep, Dmitri Oster, was open to answering all questions.
Like First Steps, he is also targeting immigrants in the Sheepshead Bay area who have turned to substance abuse to cope with cultural integration. The facility, though, would offer only counseling and would not distribute medication. Most importantly, Scavo later noted to Sheepshead Bites, One World was seeking space in a commercial area, not a residential block.
One thing Oster did not reveal to the Board, however, is that they had previously faced opposition to a proposed location on McDonald Avenue, in Community Board 11, as previously reported on Bensonhurst Bean. Seeking to put roots down at 1990 McDonald Avenue, Oster met with Community Board 11 officials seeking support on the project.
But, according to the Board’s district manager, Marnee Elias-Pavia, One World misled them during that initial, informal meeting.
“When we sat down and spoke, my chairman very clearly asked, was this an alternative to incarceration program, and they said absolutely not, it was counseling. And then we got part of the [state licensing] application from the applicant,” on which a check box was marked that One World would offer programs as alternatives to incarceration or as part of probation.
One World never formally came before Community Board 11, but the Board, feeling Oster had not been forthcoming, passed a resolution stating their opposition to the project, which later spurred Councilmembers David Greenfield and Domenic Recchia to blast the plan.
One World’s Oster said they never informed Community Board 15 of Community Board 11’s actions since it wasn’t a formal measure and they never came before the Board.
“There were some objections from another group that were unfounded,” Oster told Sheepshead Bites. “And once we got word about that, we said okay. We decided to be good neighbors and go find another location.”
During the Community Board 15 meeting, however, Oster was asked if he would be receiving referrals from the courts as an alternative to incarceration, he gave a flat “No,” as he did for Community Board 11. Community Board 15 was not given any part of One World’s state licensing application.
When Sheepshead Bites asked after the hearing if One World would be serving parolees or those ordered to treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration, Oster was evasive on the answer and said he would not share even a portion of his government application with us, claiming it is “confidential.” Sheepshead Bites has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the governing agency – the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) – for access to the documents, which has not yet been acknowledged.
If the facility ends up serving such populations, it could be grounds for Community Board 15 to rescind support, Scavo said.
“He said clearly he was not doling out drugs, it was purely a counseling facility, and that he was not taking in previously incarcerated people. So in other words he lied if those things turn out to be not true,” Scavo said. “I will contact OASAS and make clear that if he misrepresented himself our support goes out the window.”
The Community Board’s votes on such counseling centers are purely advisory. The decision for One World Counseling and First Steps to Recovery will ultimately be made by OASAS.