Community board shoots down Brighton Beach mental health clinic proposal in revote

mental health clinic
The current site of the proposed mental health clinic.

Brighton Beach civic gurus again shot down a proposal to construct a small mental health clinic in the neighborhood — warning of “sex offenders and child molesters” invading the area. 

“Many of these substance abusers and alcohol abusers are sex offenders and child molesters,” said the local community board’s vice chair, Jeff Sanoff, citing from a report from Clinical Psychology Review. 

Two mental health professionals behind the clinic — Eddie Simcha and Robert Stern — appeared before Community Board 13’s Health Committee for a second time on April 15, saying they were willing to make any reasonable changes to the plan to get a communal green light to offer drug rehabilitation services at the proposed Center for New Directions, at 308 Neptune Avenue. 

“We are making ourselves as available as possible,” said Simcha. “We want to show that we are here to work with the community, we are not trying to just sneak in. We are not trying to do something harmful.”

The board first rejected the proposal in October, but it reappeared when a concerned rabbi of a nearby congregation reneged his dissent after meeting with the applicants for a walkthrough of their other facilities. 

“We were very concerned because this place is right across the street from us… we had said we don’t know who this is going to attract — druggies, junkies so we were very concerned,” said Rabbi Efraim Zaltzman of Young Israel of Brighton Beach. “[Simcha and Stern] met with us in person… and I even visited one of their centers and met their clinicians and they made me feel comfortable that… they seem like good people and want to do good work and help people.” 

But the rabbi’s change of heart did not affect those of his fellow community members, who still raised concerns about the facility’s proximity to area schools and cited fears of it drawing those seeking drug services into the neighborhood. 

“I see a play area over there, and you are going to have people coming in with sex offenders or alcohol abusers or substance abusers, and its not going to be good for the neighborhood,” Sanoff said.

The applicants stressed that their clinic would support those already living in their community and claimed they are planning to minimize foot traffic already at this location to ensure their patients’ privacy in an effort to quell member’s fears about loitering around the center. 

“Our goal really is to help address these issues — mental health issues, suicide is through the roof, people are still struggling with the pandemic,” Simcha said. “Our location is a small location on purpose, we don’t want a lot of foot traffic here.” 

A rabbi of another neighboring congregation echoed residents’ concerns about the proposed location as he was unaware of his fellow rabbi’s reversal and the project’s possibility of moving forward. 

“I was not aware that this project was continuing, I heard about it secondhand some time ago and then I thought it wasn’t happening. I by chance found out about this meeting tonight,” said Rabbi Okonov from Friend of Refugees of Eastern Europe of Brighton Beach. “From the information today, we obviously do have concerns … I will say the concerns are very strong.” 

Some questioned the proposal’s reappearance before the board and whether this option will be granted to other applicants, with one community member stating she has never seen this occur before in her decades on the board. 

“I have been attending CB13 meetings for over 20 years both as a former board member as former first vice chair and as a community member” said Ida Sanoff. “I can’t remember when a license application of any sort was voted down in the committee and then there was a do-over.” 

The community board chair informed members she will allow applicants to have a second opportunity to go before the board if new information arises — as in this situation, the rabbi’s new approval. 

“During my tenure, if something is denied but if something new is presented it is worthwhile listening to that presentation,” said Lucy Acevedo. “We will do it on an on-to-on basis.” 

While the board’s decision is only advisory, one community member who heads Brighton Beach’s business-boosting organization said she would personally collect signatures if this project goes ahead — citing opposition from other businesses in the area. 

“I spoke to two childcare programs located one block away, I also spoke to the restaurants, I also spoke to the beauty salons located in the area,” said Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District. “If I need to collect letters and signatures I will.”

Simcha did not respond to a request for comment, and it is unclear whether he plans to move forward with the application. The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports reviews the community’s recommendation when considering applications, and therefore a no-vote is not an end-all to the proposal.