Town of North Hempstead officials have not only done the right thing in supporting a Port Washington family in the face of resident opposition to improvements to their home.
But the town officials did so with the kind of compassion and common sense too often-absent from these kinds of disputes.
And what could have ended up as another story of a small group of residents opposing a worthy project has turned into a feel-good story that we hope gets retold often.
Yes, Stevie and Angelo Bovis built a four-foot high fence on their front lawn on Derby Road last September without receiving a needed variance from the town’s Board of Zoning and Appeals.
Homeowners on Derby Road expressed their concerns 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 issues, during a zoning board hearing
Sometimes they spoke with an unexpected level of anger.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said some neighbors opposed the fence and a “general animosity simmered as the process with the zoning board played out.”
Those opposing the fence who attended the zoning hearing were supported by a letter signed by 14 other homeowners surrounding the home, which sits a block from Port Washington Boulevard, a heavily traveled four-lane road.
But Stevie and Angelo had a good reason for the fence.
Their 4-year-old daughter, Stella, has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and is considered a flight risk.
Her father said during the zoning hearing that he built the fence ahead of applying for a permit and variance on the advice of Stella’s doctor and two therapists to allow Stella to play outside freely and safely.
We would like to have thought protecting a challenged 4-year-old would have been enough for the residents. But then again this is North Hempstead and, for some, it wasn’t a good enough reason.
Fortunately, the town Board of Zoning and Appeals ruled in favor of the fence under the American Disabilities Act. A reasonable accommodation for Stella’s needs.
To its credit, the town’s support of the Bovid family did not end there.
Town officials led by DeSena gathered on Derby Road two weeks ago to mark the end of the Bovis’ struggle and extend the town’s assistance with two “Autistic Child Area” signs on their block.
DeSena then went one step further and offered the family a well-deserved apology.
“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,” DeSena said at a press conference outside the Bovis home.
District 6 Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte of Port Washington, who was unable to attend the press conference, said she had visited the Bovis family with members of the Port Washington Police Department and Stella Spanakos, the executive director of the Nicholas Center, which supports people of all ages with autism.
“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,” Dalimonte said.
The outpouring of support from town officials was returned by the Bovis family, who ignored the opponents and singled out the neighbors and officials who supported them.
“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.”
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.”
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t feel the need to compliment officials and neighbors who did the right thing and accommodated the need of a 4-year-old with a disorder like autism.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, so we thank those who supported the Bovis family. We hope to see that kind of compassion for those in need more often.