Architect Peter Helmes apologized Tuesday for almost tearing down one of Bedford’s zealously protected historic buildings.
The three-story structure, a venerable if creaky former furniture showroom off Bedford Road in Katonah, had planning board approval for rehab as a two-floor, three-story office building/apartment combo. Helmes, who co-founded with his father and brothers the Katonah architectural firm bearing the family name and overseeing the project, spoke Tuesday at a planning board meeting.
Plans filed with the board last year had called for restoring the timeworn structure one section at a time. Its first-floor retail space would be converted to offices and its third-floor, one-bedroom apartment moved to the second floor and redone with vaulted ceilings.
The building was the second of two that served as the onetime home of the Country Willow furniture store. Akonia Holdings LLC, a Connecticut investment company, bought the Bedford Road property last June for $1.46 million.
A construction crew, however, deemed conditions at the second building, behind one at 73-77 Bedford Road, too unsafe to permit section-by-section restoration, Helmes said. Without consulting him, he said, the crew razed the structure, coming this close to demolishing a bit of prized history.
To be sure, the building itself had been destroyed, down to its very foundation. But, the evidence so far suggests, the aging structure was merely dilapidated and not historic.
To qualify as historic anywhere in the Town of Bedford, a building must predate 1900. But the town historian, John Stockbridge, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, puts the building’s construction at between 1906 and 1908.
Still, as Peter Helmes stood before the planning board, he heard from historians—on the board and in the audience—who were critical of the structure’s demolition.
Planning board member Deirdre Courtney-Batson, who also serves on the Katonah Historic District Commission, said a building’s piecemeal dismantling was as much a demolition as tearing it down all at once. What matters, she said, is whether the structure retains less than half of its original building materials.
George Henschel, an architect and a member of both the town’s Historic Building Preservation Commission as well as the Bedford Village Historic District Review Commission, called repeatedly for a search of county records and insisted the burden was on the applicant, not the town, to establish whether a building is protected by historic preservation law.
Mount Kisco Medical Group to move into Arroway space?
Planning Board Chairman Donald Coe discussed with Charles Martabano, lawyer for the medical group, the results of a recent board field trip to the former Arroway Chevrolet site in Katonah. The Mount Kisco Medical Group medical practice wants to establish an office for medical billing and other records in a 9,500-square-foot building on the dealership’s site.
Besides the office, the practice would also create a 40-space parking lot on the Arroway site to serve both its current medical office at 111 Bedford Road. First, however, the board asked for cleanup, tree removal and planting and some engineering work.