By Marion Filler
A Morristown group home for adults with developmental disabilities is their “last bastion of hope,” the venture’s promoter told concerned neighbors from the town’s Historic District on Tuesday.
“One parent had to send their child to a home two-and-a-half hours away, before this vacancy opened up,” Nate Diskint of the new nonprofit Co-home Inc. said.
He hopes the converted single family residence on the corner of Miller Road and Macculloch Avenue will be ready for its occupants by the start of 2019. The stately Victorian was vacant for several years until Co-Home purchased it, with help from a $100,000 grant from the town’s affordable housing trust fund.
About 50 people came to town hall for Tuesday’s information session, the second such gathering for neighbors from the Historic District.
Nate Diskint addresses neighbors; video by Marion Filler:
At last week’s town council meeting, resident AnnMarie Manahan raised questions about the size, security, management and aesthetics of the group home, as well as the affordable housing aspect and the impact of removing a hefty ratable from the tax rolls.
Diskint and his program director, Abby Marshall, fielded questions. They were joined by Mayor Tim Dougherty, Planning Board Attorney John Inglesino, Planner Phil Abramson and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Alison Deeb, the only council member to vote against the affordable housing grant.
Representatives of families with developmentally challenged members also attended.
“We want to assure everyone that we will maintain the historic integrity of the property,” said Diskint, who has devoted three years to finding a suitable location and raising funds to acquire it.
“It’s a great building in need of TLC,” said architect Peter Dorne, whose specialty is estates. “The modifications won’t have an impact on the exterior and no one will feel that anything has changed.”
Nate and his older brother Yehuda say their younger brother, Jeremy, who has Down syndrome, inspired them to pursue a solution to the shortage of good housing for high-functioning disabled adults.
Jeremy currently resides elsewhere in Morristown. “It feels like I’ve lived here forever,” he said. “I love the food -– the Morristown Diner and Panera Bread!”
“This is a wonderful mission,” said Joni Rose, the Diskints’ mother. She described the anxiety of aging parents who fear for the welfare of their disabled children after they are gone.
Nate Diskint is living in the house and supervising repairs. Realtor Katherine Adcock, who handled the $1.1 million sale, said the residence received new plumbing and electrical wiring in 2005.
“The only thing that wasn’t improved was the exterior,” Adcock said.
Questions on Tuesday largely concerned the financial solvency of Co-Home, also known as Morris Blue. Neighbors wanted to know how much traffic the operation may generate, and what recourse they have if the property is not maintained.
At every turn, attorneys for Diskint and Morristown, and the Mayor and town planner, assured the audience the project has undergone “extreme vetting,” and safeguards are in place to prevent problems.
“Any residence or commercial building has to keep their property to a certain standard. They have to follow the rules just like everyone else,” Dougherty said.
Asserting that “nothing is more expensive than an older home,” Deeb asked why the Diskints had not chosen a newer building or built from scratch. “Seems more common sense that it would be more cost effective,” the councilwoman said.
Nate Diskint and Marshall extolled the location, open floor plan and quality of materials of the Miller Road home, contrasting it with newer, cheaper construction full of “vinyl and plastic” typically found in institutions in remote areas.
Six developmentally disadvantaged residents and two “resident role models,” or RMs, will live in the house and pay rent. The RMs’ presence counts towards the town’s affordable housing obligation.
In exchange for their subsidy, the RMs will interact with patients and strive to provide the sense of community the Diskints are eager to create.
After two hours, with most questions asked and answered, what remained were imponderables that cannot be ascertained until the project moves forward.
Most people left the session looking reassured and hopeful for a successful outcome.