'Seaside House' idea in Waterford attracts opposition

Waterford - The executive director of The Arc of Connecticut, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has filed a letter with the Planning and Zoning department in opposition to a Seaside Preservation Zoning District neighbor's alternative proposal for development of the property of the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled.

The "Seaside House" proposal filed with the town earlier this month by Woodsea Place resident Debby Green envisions a voluntary cooperative living facility on the shore where residents work 20 hours a week in exchange for free room and board on state-owned property. Green has proposed that the site could house mentally ill, disabled and homeless people.

In the June 16 letter, Arc Executive Director Leslie Simoes writes, "It would be not only ethically and morally wrong but a violation of federal law to reopen Seaside as a congregate setting for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities."

'Creative housing'

Simoes said Monday that a "creative housing" situation located somewhere that has not previously served as an institution could hypothetically be appropriate. She said she had not read Green's proposal and so could not comment on the specifics of it.

Simoes said she read about the proposal in The Day, after hearing about it from the state's preferred developer for the site Mark Steiner, who has proposed turning the site into a high-end resort.

Department of Administrative Services Staff Counsel Jeffrey Beckham said earlier this month that the state is unable to consider new proposals for use of Seaside at this time due to the state's contract with Steiner.

Green said her proposal was not geared toward creating an institution. She said she drew from the Americans with Disabilities Act in preparing her proposal.

"This is pretty funny, this letter," Green said Monday. "It talks about forcing people to live there, and that has nothing to do with my idea."

She noted that admission would be based on prospective residents' applications for jobs on site.

"It's to provide people with esteem, not to institutionalize them," said Green, who has multiple sclerosis and said she receives benefits from the Veterans' Administration for being 100 percent disabled. "My whole idea was to allow people to get back into society."

Simoes explained on Monday that even if a proposal were for a non-institutional use, the Arc opposes installing housing or other facilities for the intellectually and developmentally disabled in locations that previously housed institutions.

"It's not just about Seaside, it's every large institution," she said. "People with mental illness were considered subhuman and so they were forced to live in these large congregate institutions."

Arc filed the lawsuit that resulted in Seaside being shut down as an institution for the developmentally disabled, according to Simoes.

Kathleen Stauffer, CEO of Arc affiliate The Arc New London County, said that Arc organizations' philosophy is to integrate intellectually and developmentally disabled people into living situations with people who don't have such disabilities. Stauffer was not involved in writing the letter and said Monday she had not read Green's proposal.

"It's the Arc's philosophy that full inclusion is what every person deserves," she said.

Simoes said that she thought it was important to remind people of the history of institutionalization when proposals to house people based on like characteristics arise.

t.townsend@theday.com

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