Bedford Grants Stepping Stones Environmental Approval

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The Bedford Town Board declared Tuesday night that changes proposed for the Stepping Stones museum's parking lot will not have a significant impact on the environment. The museum's application now moves to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Photo Credit: Liz Button

BEDFORD, N.Y. — The Stepping Stones museum’s application to build a reconfigured parking lot will not have a significant impact on the environment, the Bedford Town Board declared Tuesday.

The former home of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson and his wife, Lois, located on 8 acres at 62 Oak Road in Katonah, was the subject of a joint meeting Tuesday night with the Bedford Planning Board.

As lead agency in charge of the environmental review, the Town Board worked with the Planning Board to review changes proposed for the Stepping Stones property, which is designated a national historic landmark.

Initially, the Stepping Stones foundation’s executive director, Annah Perch, came to the town with a proposal for an off-street, landscaped parking lot to accommodate up to 14 cars. This would require a special use permit as written in the town zoning code. Since then, residents in the neighborhood have spoken up with a litany of complaints – many of them enumerated in an April 2012 petition – mainly that the site’s visitors are increasing in number, creating noise and traffic problems.

Planning Board members said that, in part, they relied on the neighbors’ petition to create a protocol, a list of guidelines for the site's operation that will lessen the impact on the neighborhood. The Planning Board’s protocol, which has been a year in the making, includes adjusted hours and attendance caps, as well as a limit on the number of events allowed per month, focusing on the museum’s annual picnics.

"At the moment, the Planning Board has spent a lot of time dealing with the potential impacts of the project," Bedford Town Planner Jeff Osterman said Tuesday, developing a series of conditions that would “minimize environmental impacts on the neighborhood.”

"The big events are what really affect the neighborhood,” said Town Supervisor Lee Roberts, and Planning Board member John Sullivan agreed. "It’s really about hitting those peak moments,” he said, like in May and September, the heaviest attendance months.

The Town Board approved the plan, provided the protocol is followed. The application will now go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance, then back to the Town Board for final approval of the special permit, and, at last, back to the Planning Board to go over final details of site plan grading and lighting.

Frustrated neighborhood residents, including Diane Brigante, have long disputed Stepping Stones' right to exist in a residential neighborhood and contends that these types of adjustments are designed to help increase the foundation's reach. But James Moogan, president of the museum’s board of trustees, said issues of historical preservation are the chief motivator behind any structural changes.

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