Land Trust Lawsuit Against Lewisboro; Wolf Center Moves Forward – Bedford-Katonah, NY Patch

An ongoing legal dispute between the Town of Lewisboro, the Wolf Conservation Center and the Westchester Land Trust takes another step forward this morning in state Supreme Court  court.

Oral arguments in the land trust’s lawsuit against the town and the wolf center are set to recommence at about 10 a.m. in White Plains.

The trust’s suit, which was filed in September, stems from the town’s lease agreement with the wolf center to build a compound for wolves on an 8-acre strip of property located on the 380-acre Leon Levy Preserve. The trust believes the construction of the wolf enclosure would violate the terms of a conservation easement that already exists on the property.

“We don’t think anyone should be in court,” said Debbie Heineman, the executive director of the wolf center. “The last thing anyone needs is two nonprofits spending days in court and filing legal papers.”

The Leon Levy Preserve, located off routes 35 and 123, is a property that the town purchased from the Bell and Reifenheiser families for $8.3 million in 2005. The land trust gave the town  $5.5 million to help with the land purchase.

The trust’s contribution, which was made up of $5 million from the Jerome Levy Foundation and $500,000 from the Dextra Baldwin McGonagle Foundation, was given to the town with the understanding that an easement would be placed on 280 acres of the property. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection holds an easement on another 90 acres of the preserve.

The land trust contends that the construction of an 8-acre enclosure, which will require building fences, grading the land to create a wolf habitat and the cutting of trees, would violate the terms of the easement.

Officials from the land trust were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Heinemann said the wolf center needs to lease the property because of the growing popularity of its programs. In addition to the wolf enclosure, the center wants to build an educational center on property adjacent to the preserve.

The New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has already awarded a $300,000 grant to the wolf center for the project.The center has also collected about $1.3 million in private donations.

“The state office of parks and recreation has obviously reviewed the easement and they didn’t see anything wrong with our project,” Heinemann said.

Charles Duffy, the Lewisboro town supervisor, said his lawyers advised him against speaking in detail about the case.

“I just hope we can resolve this and it doesn’t linger,” Duffy said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”

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