Town and Port Washington officials gathered on Derby Road Thursday afternoon to mark the end of an ongoing struggle for one family and unveil two “Autistic Child Area” signs on their block.
Stevie and Angelo Bovis, who moved to the area last September, recently received a variance from the town’s Board of Zoning and Appeals allowing a previously-built four-foot fence in their front lawn through the American Disabilities Act.
“Despite this happy ending, I still would like to extend my deepest sympathies on behalf of the town as their family was put through an ordeal, and I hope this will raise awareness going forward of what is considered a reasonable accommodation,” North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said at a press conference outside the Bovis home.
Stevie and Angelo’s daughter, Stella, 4, is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and is considered a flight risk. Angelo said during his Jan. 11 hearing he built the fence ahead of applying for a permit and variance on the advice of Stella’s doctor and two therapists to let Stella play outside freely and safely.
The house the family bought is one home away from Port Washington Boulevard, which stretches from Port Washington North to Munsey Park. DeSena added some neighbors opposed the fence and “general animosity simmered as the process with the zoning board played out.”
Stella’s mother, Stevie Bovis, said she was thankful for the support of both her neighbors and community.
“I just want to say thank you to the community coming forward and really making us feel welcomed after such an ordeal that was so disheartening to myself, my husband and my daughter, Stella,” Stevie said. “I also want to say thank you to the neighbors that have stepped forward and given us their blessing and have also shown support and sympathy for what we’re dealing with on a daily basis.”
Other homeowners on Derby Road expressed concerns during the hearing with the four-foot distance of the fence to the curb, the height of the fence and the aesthetics of the overall neighborhood, among other things. A letter was also submitted to the board with the signatures of 14 other homes on Derby regarding their displeasure.
The town’s Board of Zoning and Appeals, which has five members and is autonomous from the Town Board, has to consider a different set of standards for zoning restrictions when applications are protected by the American Disabilities Act and ultimately granted the variance since it is a reasonable accommodation for Stella’s needs.
District 6 Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte of Port Washington, who was unable to attend Thursday, reiterated her ongoing support for the Bovis’.
“I visited the Bovis family over the weekend with members of the Port Washington Police Department and Stella Spanakos of the Nicholas Center, and we brought flowers to let the family know they have a friend in us,” Dalimonte said in a statement. “Going forward, I would like members of the Port Washington community to come together and form a support group for parents and grandparents of children with autism – I would like to work Stella Spanakos from the Nicholas Center to help facilitate this.”
Spanakos, co-founder of the Nicholas Center in Port Washington, which provides daily support to over 140 individuals with autism each day, said it takes a community effort to make everyone feel welcomed.
“Kudos to our great community, it takes more than a village to raise a child with disabilities,” Spanakos said. “We are very grateful this had a happy ending.”