Port Chester can't do much to prevent new group homes from taking root in the village and taking property off the tax rolls.
That was the message from several trustees during a public hearing last week. Trustees say there's little they can do locally, and they told residents a change in state law is the community's best shot for relief.
"The cards are stacked against us," said Trustee Joseph Kenner. "It just seems like before we even start, we've lost. And I think the intent here is to go on record and find out what legislative relief is available for Port Chester so we at least have a chance."
Port Chester has a dozen group homes, according to a state registry. It's also more "saturated" with group homes than neighboring municipalities by almost every measure, according to registry figures and research by Trustee Bart Didden. The village has the most group homes per capita and the highest concentration per mile of all villages in Westchester County.
By contrast, Harrison and Rye Brook have three group homes apiece, and no other village has more than a half-dozen.
When -- since -- was submitted for a group home on Betsy Brown Road earlier this year, elected leaders vowed to oppose it. As they did when the application was made public, trustees last week reiterated that their opposition was not to the group home itself, but to the idea of taking more property off the tax rolls.
Since the new board was sworn in in 2010, almost every political decision in the village has been weighted by efforts to relieve the tax burden on Port Chester homeowners.
At issue is a 1978 piece of legislation called the Padavan Law. The law was passed at a time when the state "was under legal and political pressure to empty its institutions for the retarded and mentally ill." The trend, sanctioned by mental health and medical professionals, was to move developmentally disabled adults into small group homes, where they could live a family-style setting and enjoy a measure of independence.
The law was meant to address the two main obstacles, tools local communities were using to keep group homes out: zoning changes and lawsuits.
The four-page law acknowledges the potential for "saturation," but doesn't define it. That's likely because a definition would take the teeth out of the law, Mayor Dennis Pilla said. Municipalities in the state vary wildly, and saturation would mean different things for rural communities, dense urban communities, and everything in between.
"There are no definitions for saturation," Pilla said. "They're probably not going to touch that, realistically, with a 10-foot pole."
The Padavan Law, Pilla pointed out, does not take tax burden into account.
The hearing was attended by Assemblyman George Latimer, and village leaders say their best shot is to lobby the state for relief.
Pointing out the tax burden on Port Chester is one part of it, but some trustees said they'll try to appeal to the main criteria in the Padavan Law. The spirit of the law, Pilla said, is "not to exclude disabled people the opportunity to live anywhere."
Port Chester's best shot may be arguing that the disabled are largely denied the opportunity to live in Westchester County's wealthier communities.
"It's not about the impact of only taxes, it's a framework of what is best for society, not just in Port Chester, but our neighboring communities," Didden said. "Why can't other communities do their fair share?"
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