Tel:914 . 666 . 4400

Planners Send Stepping Stones to Town Board

Caught in the crossfire of an ongoing neighborhood feud.
Published by: Bedford-Katonah Patch Link to article
Written by: Tom Bartley
PDF version: pdf iconView PDF

September 13, 2012

Planners Send Stepping Stones to Town Board
With the historic site and its neighbors still at odds, use-permit issue returns to the lawmakers.

Planning board members John Sullivan, Deirdre Courtney-Batson, Donald Coe and William Colavito study changes in the proposed Stepping Stones protocol. Tom Bartley

Caught in the crossfire of an ongoing neighborhood feud, Bedford’s planning board took hits from both sides Tuesday as it tried anew to broker a peace in Katonah.

Representatives of the Stepping Stones historic site and its longtime Oak Road-area neighbors shredded a proposed “protocol,” meant to resolve contentious issues like crowd size and operating hours. They accused the board, by turns, of either being unfair or exceeding its charter in even drafting the protocol.
In the end, the board picked up the protocol’s tattered, renegotiated pages—by Wednesday afternoon the specific revisions were still being sorted out—and voted to send them on to the town board. The town board had asked the planners’ help last year in reviewing a request by the foundation for a special-use permit, required under a 1983 amendment to the town zoning code. 

The foundation has asked for both the permit and approval of an off-street, landscaped parking lot to accommodate up to 14 cars. While the planning board can bless the parking lot’s site plan, the permit must be voted on by the town board, which asked the planners to provide input

But a lawyer for the Stepping Stones Foundation, Whitney Singleton of Mount Kisco, rejected operating restrictions suggested by the planning board. He charged they would shut down Stepping Stones, the historic home of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson and his wife, Lois.

Neighbors, on the other hand, contended through Diane S. Brigante that the board’s suggested protocol was, among other things, “not fair to the community.” Recovering alcoholics around the world revere the Wilson property, often with a spiritual fervor, and regularly visit. But the eight-acre site, once “out in the woods,” is now part of a densely settled residential area.

Planning board chairman Donald J. Coe defended the board’s proposals. “The planning board feels that the revised plan is a good one,” he said, insisting that planners had “tried to be fair to everyone.”
“Compromise,” he said, “is not a dirty word in Bedford.”

In addressing neighbors’ concerns that Stepping Stones’ visitors were growing more numerous, creating noise and traffic problems, the board had suggested a number of restrictions. Among them:

• Daily drop-in attendance would be limited to 50 people, with small, organized group visits—more than 10 people but fewer than 50—not permitted on Sundays and limited to just one group on one Saturday a month.
• Large groups, numbering more than 50 but less than 200, could visit no more than twice monthly, and never on Sunday, except for the foundation’s annual picnic.
• Visitor parking would not be permitted on local roads.

Singleton, the foundation’s lawyer, and Brigante, the lone resident to address the board as the clock turned toward midnight, agreed on little all night. But both challenged the planning board’s reach in this matter.

“I don’t think this board has any authority to make recommendations,” Brigante said. “I know you put a lot of work into it. I know you have.” Still, she insisted, “I don’t think it’s fair to the neighborhood.”
Singleton, too, challenged the board’s approach. “What you have to compare us to is not what you’d like to see [for the neighborhood], but what is permitted in the zone,” he said. “You’re seeking to restrict that which is already permitted.”

He maintained that Stepping Stones would “need to shut down under this protocol. We cannot operate under these constraints.”