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Caring Son-In-Law Is Frustrated With Greenburgh

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- A Hartsdale resident wants to put a lift in his house for his 81-year-old father-in-law who is confined to a wheelchair and is being discharged from a nursery home, but said that the Town of Greenburgh wouldn’t allow him to do the necessary construction.

David Stovall said that all he wants is to raise by one foot the roof pitch of an apartment at a separate part of his house on Underhill Road, where he plans to install his mentally ill father-in-law, Gerard L. Reuter. The town’s engineering department, however, refused to give him a “steep-slope clearance,” one of the documents he needs to file a building application, he said.

The reason, Stovall explained, is that his house is a nonconforming structure, meaning that it has some features, such as the distance between its wall and the neighbor’s fence, that don’t comply with the town building code. The code determines that a nonconforming house cannot be refurbished unless the owner makes it conforming or gets an exemption to the rule.

“Nobody wants to put lifts in their houses, believe me,” Stovall said, adding that the town should be more supportive.

“It’s cruel. This is a human being we are talking about,” he said.

Stovall presented his case to the Greenburgh Town Board during its last meeting Thursday night, attending by invitation from Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, who strongly supported him.

Reuter has lived for 56 years in Greenburgh, first in Ardsley and then in Hartsdale. In 2007, he was taken to Atria senior house in Yonkers. But now Atria informed Stovall that it can no longer cares for Reuter, and that he will be discharged on Sept. 13.

“His condition slowly degenerated to a point where he can’t get up,” Stovall said.

If he can’t build in his house, Stovall said that his only option is to institutionalize Reuter. Indeed, he admitted that he and his wife once tried to put Reuter in a skilled nursing facility, but didn’t like what they saw.

“I am ashamed to say we took him there,” he said.

The place was noisy and stank and Reuter was crying like a child, Stovall said.

“He has memory problems, but he is not so gone. He understands where he is,” he said.

At the town board meeting, a distressed Stovall brandished to the board members Reuter's discharge papers, which show that he fought as a sergeant in Japan and China during World War II, receiving a medal for good conduct.

"We are next in the line," Stovall told the board. "We are only 30 years from where Gerard is." 

Praising Stovall for being a dedicated son-in-law and calling Reuter a hero, Feiner said that the case should be the town's highest priority and that he was “disgusted” when he heard about it.

“It’s not only about the law, it’s about the town working for its residents,” Feiner said.

But councilman Francis Sheenan urged caution with conclusions, saying that the town engineers must have a reason for holding the permit, and that it might even be the safety of the construction.

“Individual employees don’t create the policies,” he said. “They follow the town policies.”

Victor Carosi, the town commissioner of public works and head of the engineering department, was not available for comment as of Saturday afternoon.


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