Rhinebeck mental health center back in spotlight again

Residents, village officials concerned after landlord requests time extension on ZEO order

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Concerned neighbors and Rhinebeck village officials appear to be increasingly frustrated at the delay in getting answers about the mental health counseling center in the heart of Rhinebeck.

At a village board of trustees meeting Sept. 10, Mayor Jim Reardon announced that the property’s owner, Daniel Colnaghi, was now requesting an extension on a cease-and-desist order issued by the village on Aug. 1.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Bob Fennell had issued the order with a Sept. 1 deadline, and rather than grant an extension, the board has asked that Colnaghi appeal the order before Oct. 1.

If an appeal is not filed by then, the village will “seek to enforce the order” by legal means, village attorney Richard Olson said. If an appeal is filed by Colnaghi, it will then go to the Zoning Board of Appeals. According to state law, a cease-and-desist order is used in cases where a property owner has been notified of a zoning violation and does not address the issue. If the appeal is filed, the ZBA then gets to interpret it.

The order was issued after an investigation by the board and the ZEO revealed that a new site plan had not been filed after three nonprofit organizations took over the lease from the Dutchess County Department of Mental Health last year.

Concerns about the facility at 47 Market St., which now offers mental health and substance abuse programs, came to light at the board’s May 14 meeting. Residents from nearby streets expressed alarm about the facility’s client supervision, the loitering, and an increase in taxi traffic in the neighborhood.

At the Sept. 10 meeting, the board asked that residents hold their comments until the public hearing if the order is appealed. But Kathleen Ghee, who lives on Oak St., next door to the facility, told the board that the neighbors are running out of patience.

“This is a substantial safety risk. I know we have to go through a legal process, but I feel like there’s been numerous delays…extensions given to [the landlord]… It’s been four months since we saw you guys May 14, we’re still waiting…You just need to understand how frustrated we are,” she said.

Reardon replied, “One thing I can tell you after six years in government, the most frustrating thing is how slowly we move. I’m a person who believes in making a decision and getting things done. Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to just go over their heads and say, ‘We’re going to do this.’”

Reardon confirmed that more police patrols of the area had been assigned in May as a result of residents’ concerns.

Reardon also told the board that Fennell has resigned, so the board will also be reviewing resumes for the ZEO position while waiting on Colnaghi’s response.

He also said that Bill O’Neil, Deputy County Executive and liaison to the county’s mental health department, had confirmed that the county is no longer involved in the operation of the facility, although the nonprofits do get county funding.

“I don’t believe anybody is of the mindset that people shouldn’t have mental health care. The issue we face as a village board is … the way that business is operating. It is operating on a site plan that doesn’t belong [to them], it belongs to the county,” Reardon said.

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