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Lancaster skips public hearing, approves group home in village

The Lancaster Village Board didn't have much of a debate about a proposed group home in the community. Trustee Lynne T. Ruda said there was nothing to debate.

“I can’t even envision the concept of saying no. Part of our responsibility as a community is to be accepting of all,” Ruda said. “There was no reason to take it to a public hearing and create controversy when there doesn’t have to be any.”

The two-story, seven-bedroom home on Aurora Street will be home for five children with intellectual disabilities, said Douglas DiGesare, chief executive officer of Arc Erie County, formerly Heritage Center. Twenty-four hour staff supervision and training in activities of daily living will be provided. The 5,244-square-foot residence was most recently occupied by Living Opportunities of DePaul Inc. a Rochester-based nonprofit organization that provides housing for adults with serious developmental issues.

Village attorney Arthur A. Herdzik said although such facilities often are the subject of public hearings, they are not required.

The Aurora Street site had been vacant for more than a year, noted Trustee Kenneth L. O'Brien III.

“It’s not like we added another home to infiltrate the village,” said O’Brien. “We’re maintaining  the status quo. We’re replacing an existing group home that served a community that needs housing.”

The operation of group homes started to ramp up in the 1970s as federal and state officials moved to mainstream senior citizens, the developmentally and physically disabled and recovering addicts by placing them in residential settings. During the late 1980s and into the ’90s, residents in various municipalities pushed back against the location of group homes. The West Seneca Town Board voted unanimously to oppose construction of community homes for mentally disadvantaged seniors in 1990. Cheektowaga residents opposed the opening of five group homes by the West Seneca Disabilities Services Office in 1993. And in 1994, town boards in Amherst and Town of Tonawanda called on the state to compensate localities for dollars lost when tax-exempt group homes were established.

Public sentiment today has changed, said Jeffrey Bell, director of marketing and development for Arc, which operates 24 group homes throughout the county.

“It’s not that the projects have changed, it’s the public perception," Bell said. "People realized the group homes do not pull resources form the community. The public has been educated.”

The Village of Lancaster has at least five group homes operated by Catholic Charities of Buffalo, Southeast Community Work Center, Aspire and two by People Inc., said DiGesare.

“The Village Board understands the needs of the organization, and they were not going to stand in its way," said Herdzik.

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