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AGENCY DROPS SITE NEAR PLAZA AS HOME FOR TROUBLED YOUTHS

A human services agency has decided not to locate a facility for troubled youths behind a strip plaza in the Village of Hamburg.

"I don't want to do something that causes other businesses near us to close," said L. Nathan Hare, western region director of services for Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth.

The agency has a memorandum of understanding with Erie County to operate a program housing some of the county's PINS youths, or persons in need of supervision. It had identified two buildings behind Holiday Village Plaza that could house eight to 12 youngsters apiece.

But when the site was publicized, residents in the nearby Holiday Village subdivision and the owners of Kinder Care day care center raised objections. The day care center is located between the two buildings Berkshire Farm wanted to occupy, and the three facilities would share a parking area.

"We had about five families that were very concerned," said Marie Parnitzke, who owns the center with her husband, Paul. "That's just a bad thing to put next to a day care center."

Earlier this week, the village was presented a petition containing 75 signatures opposed to Berkshire Farm's locating at the plaza.

"I had a number of phone calls," Mayor John S. Thomas said. "I think this is an important step. I think the county is on the right track. Berkshire bent over backward. The fit is probably not the best."

Thomas noted that while Berkshire Farm presented its proposal to the Village Board during a work session, it never had the chance to talk to the public. Though the Holiday Village location has been pulled, Hare, Deputy County Executive Carl J. Calabrese and County Legislator Jeanne Z. Chase, R-Evans, have accepted the mayor's invitation to speak to the issue at Monday's 7 p.m. Village Board meeting.

"We feel strongly for the need," Thomas said. "I am very interested in seeing something placed in the Southtowns."

"We're not in the siting business. It really is up to them to find the property that fits their need and requirements of the county and state," Calabrese said. " We've asked Berkshire if they would find alternate sites."

"It just wouldn't make sense for us to introduce a group home at the expense of a business," Hare said.

He said Berkshire also withdrew the location because of questions over zoning. Though Berkshire believes the zoning would permit the facility, village officials said that type of detention center is not addressed in its zoning code.

"We didn't want to create a situation where kids felt like they were in a bunker. We felt it just didn't make sense to put everyone into a firestorm," he said.

"I can only say good things about Berkshire Farm," Parnitzke said. "They don't want to hurt anyone. We didn't want anyone to get hurt. We didn't want to take any chances. They don't want to jeopardize their children, either."

Hare said the episode amounts to a difference of opinion in the risk posed by the 10- to 15-year-olds who would be housed at the facility.

He said that Berkshire is re-examining sites it had looked at and that he still hopes to locate in the Southtowns.

"When you get outside the City of Buffalo, there are very few highly concentrated services for youth. We thought this was an opportunity for us to begin building services," Hare said.

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