A drug counseling center is suffering from withdrawal of community approval, after its new location in Sheepshead Bay was okayed by the community board, but then rejected by the community — and now even its landlord.
After One World Counseling’s plan for a Gravesend office on Kings Highway near McDonald Avenue was shot down by Community Board 11, it was approved by Community Board 15 for a spot on E. 17th Street near Kings Highway last November, only to face a backlash from residents after they read about the decision in the Bay News.
“If not for the article we would have never known,” said nearby resident Tispora Borger. “There was no notice about this whatsoever.”
Even the drug counselor’s prospective landlord, John Notias, said he had no idea that One World Counseling dealt with people battling addiction, and that he took the business on as a tenant under the assumption that it provided general therapy.
“I had no idea,” said Notias. “I feel like I’ve fallen into a trap.”
Furthermore, the E. 17th Street building’s owner said that if One World Counseling provides services to drug addicts, its current contract will be null and void.
“If he treats drug addicts, then he played a game with me,” said Notias. “If that’s the case, he would forfeit the lease.”
One World Counseling owner Dmitri Oster refuted Notias’s claim that he was anything but completely open about the nature of his business, which he says treats many working professionals who have alcohol and drug abuse problems.
“Of course we were up front,” said Oster. “We’re absolutely up front with everything we’re doing. We are going to be an outpatient, substance-abuse facility, so people will be coming to us primarily with alcohol and drug abuse problems, but they’re a whole range of people. Many professional, working people, not criminals.”
Borger and others in the area organized a petition drive aimed at reversing the board’s decision.
“Once we found out, the residents got together with the schools and we decided that this is outrageous and that we all agree that we don’t want this place,” said Borger, “Our petition has at least a couple of hundred signatures. I’m not sure what the total amount is, but nobody wants this place around.”
Local business owners are wary that One World’s patients will scare off the foot traffic that gives their Kings Highway locations prestige and profitability.
“Indirectly this will affect my business, sure,” said Joseph Pavilion, owner of Pavilion Jewelry. “The 20, 30, 40 people they’ll bring to the neighborhood will come into contact with my clientèle and deter them from coming to the neighborhood. This area has a lot of foot traffic and if people don’t feel comfortable walking around here, then businesses will fail.”
The jeweler’s security guard put it more bluntly.
“Yeah, I’m a security guard, and if this place comes to town, everyone is going to need one,” the guard said.
The community board faced angry residents at their monthly meeting in January, prompting chairwoman Theresa Scavo to send out an e-mail to all 49 board members asking them if they’d like to change their vote. Board members by and large said they were satisfied with their original decision, despite the growing grass-roots opposition.
“Basically, they felt that the proposal was sound,” said Scavo. “It’s in a commercial area, near public transportation, and the owner said he wouldn’t receive any clients from the courts. We have to take him at face value.”
Oster accuses his opponents of intentionally exaggerating the type of problems associated with his business, which does not dispense drugs like Methadone, or deal with hardened criminals.
“This is willful misrepresentation on those people’s part,” said Oster. “We’re not going receive any referrals from the courts. We have a variety of social support services that we’ll work with, its not criminals and drug addicts.”
When Oster was interviewed for a previous story, however, he admitted that, while One World Counseling receives most of its clients from social support services and cultural groups, they do receive some court referrals.
“There are a few referrals that come through courts, but the bulk of our referral patients come through community based organizations,” Oster told this paper in December.
Oster later refused to comment on whether or when that policy changed.Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cn
©2013 Community News Group
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