Land Trust Wins Zoning Board Approval

The Westchester Land Trust inched a step closer to moving to its new headquarters at 403 Harris Road, with the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals giving its go-ahead to a minor, if significant, change in the town’s zoning code, as sought by it.

At its Wednesday, April 4 meeting, the board unanimously adopted a resolution granting its request for a variance that’d enable the W.L.T. to obtain a special use permit from the town board to open its offices in a residential neighborhood.

As board chairwoman Hazel Nourse read aloud the summary of the resolution, Paul Gallay, executive director of the W.L.T., took a few minutes to express concern over a particular clause regarding the size and the frequency of gatherings permissible at the new location.

Board member David Menken wasn’t present at the meeting.

In a letter, dated February 2, the Planning Board recommended to the Town Board that it approve the W.L.T.’s application to relocate, subject to a few conditions, one among them being: “All meetings over 25 people shall be off-site, with the possibility of an occasional large gathering.”

While the zoning board was in favor of limiting the number of gatherings to one, at the request of Mr. Gallay, the resolution was amended to make room for two get-togethers (of up to 75 people) a year.

Gatherings of more than 75 people could take place either at another donor’s house, or at the Katonah Library, but not at the W.L.T. headquarters, Mr. Gallay clarified.

Armed with the approval of the zoning board, the W.L.T. will appear before the Town Board next on April 17 to present its case.

Back in January, when the W.L.T. had applied to the Town Board for a special use permit, it’d been referred to the town’s zoning board to get a variance of the Town Zoning Code Article VIII, Section 125-82.

This rule states that such a permit may be issued only for a philanthropic or eleemosynary use or an institution as long as the use or institution will have frontage and access on a county or state road.

In this case, the 403 Harris Road is located on a town road. “We’re excited about this [project], but we’re even more excited about doing it right and we will do it right,” Mr. Gallay emphasized.

Even after the Town Board green-lights the plan, it’ll be some time before the W.L.T. moves to its new address. Before its eventual departure from 11 Babbitt Road, the organization will devote some time to sprucing up the colonial-style farmhouse to render it more workplace-friendly.

The soon-to-be Bedford headquarters of the W.L.T. will sit on a 4.2-acre portion of an approximately 21-acre parcel, formerly a part of the late Jean Tilt estate.

“There won’t be any changes to the historic house, which is one of the greatest benefits of this [plan]. We have every intention of restoring it to its former glory,” Mr. Gallay said.

The “W.L.T. plans on restoring the farmhouse and will not seek an authorization to demolish it. We have begun work with the town’s Historic Preservation Commission to assure that our work at the property retains and where possible enhances the historic value of the house and grounds,” stated Mr. Gallay in a letter to the zoning board in January.

The W.L.T. compound will include a house, a garage, a greenhouse, and two apartments. While the 10-member staff of the W.L.T. will occupy the main building, the apartments will be rented out at affordable-rates to town or school employees or fire department volunteers.

Additionally, the W.L.T. would be overseeing the preservation of a 17-acre parcel of open space that’s being donated to it by neighbors Lisa and Mark Schwartz and Frank and Carol Hertling, who voluntarily agreed to protect the remainder of the Tilt property through conservation easements.

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