June 24, 2014 —
The largest crowd in years gathered at the Tusten Town Hall for the meeting on June 23, drawn by word that the vacant Narrowsburg school building, in the center of the tiny hamlet, will be sold to a couple that plans to open a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in it. Joan and Robert Buto own and operate a rehab facility in Florida called Changes Treatment Center.
Tusten supervisor Carol Wingert said the town board will not be making the determination as to whether or not such a project could go forward; that decision will be made by the planning board or zoning board of appeals should the sale of the facility go forward. She also said without an application in front of either board it was impossible to know what the Butos are proposing and if it is allowed under the law, but in any case the law will determine whether the project goes forward or not.
Council member Ned Lang said that he is going to fly down to
Florida and take another member of the community and possibly someone from the Sullivan County Department of Family Services, and check out the Changes Treatment Center.
Lang also said that before her death, his mother took a crumbling rehab facility in Florida, turned it around, “and she saved thousands and thousands of lives, and you will never be closer to God than you are in one of these facilities when you see the transformation that these people go through.”
Council member Tony Ritter noted that the deal includes the 14 acres on Kirk Road that contains the ball field, which four months ago the school board indicated to the town board it was not interested in selling because it wished to keep it as a back-up sports field.
When members of the audience spoke, many said they were not opposed to a rehab facility in the town, but they were opposed to one being established in the school.
Resident Iris Helfeld said, “It’s not that I don’t want them here, I just don’t think the school is the right place. There can be pastoral settings; we have a lot of property for sale.”
Former council member Eileen Falk said, “I have nothing against druggies or alcoholics, because let’s face it we all have one in the family.” She said she took her brother to many rehab facilities and all of them “were away from people, they were beautiful properties, away from town, away from children.”
Barry Becker noted that four rehab facilities in the region have closed in recent years, and asked if a license for a rehab to operate had been granted by Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in Albany; the question was not answered.
Resident Bernie Lohmann said the board of the Sullivan West School District, which voted on June 20 to sell the school to the Butos, threw the community “under the bus,” and when they made the decision they “rushed it through” because they didn’t want to face any opposition.
Former town clerk Kathy Michell said current zoning is clear that the use is prohibited from being established in the commercial district in which the school is located. If that is true, the Butos could apply to the zoning board of appeals for a variance, and if the board approves it, the project could go forward.
A petition started by Annie Stanley and other area residents recorded more than 600 signatures both online and on paper opposing a rehab center.
Wingert said Joan and Robert Buto would appear before the town board at the next meeting on July 8, and would explain their plans and answer questions from the board and members of the community.