Was This Old House an Historic One As Well? – Bedford-Katonah, NY Patch

Was This Old House an Historic One As Well?

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Kevin and Steve Helmes address the planning board Tuesday, standing before a bulletin-board photo of their lone remaining structure in a Bedford Road project in Katonah.

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An aging Katonah structure, demolished after the planning board OKd only a renovation, has offices in its future and important questions about its past.

By Tom Bartley | Email the author | 5:50am

Contractors overhauling a pair of time-worn buildings in Katonah were scrambling today to learn whether they’ve run afoul of the town’s tough historic-preservation laws.

The Helmes Group of Katonah, which is overseeing a project to turn the onetime Country Willow furniture shops into office space, acknowledges that a construction crew razed one of the aging buildings after finding its conditions unsafe. But that building, located behind the main structure at 73-77 Bedford Road, was built at roughly the turn of the last century, making it a potential candidate for protection as a historic building and leaving those who tore it down subject to stiff penalties.

“This [demolition] came as a bit of a surprise,” said planning board member Deirdre Courtney-Batson, who was sitting in for vacationing chairman Donald Coe and who presided over a three-hour meeting Tuesday evening that also dealt with these businesses.

Splash Car Wash. Preliminary approval of a site plan for the car wash was shelved, pending action by the zoning board of appeals on applications for three variances to cover parking and yard issues. Splash proposes to move from its current Bedford Hills location at 527 North Bedford Road, on the west side of Route 117, to the former Carvel site, across the street and north, at Valerio Court.

Comisac Nursery. The board renewed for another year landscaper Mike Comisac’s permit to operate his nursery at 531 Bedford Road, Bedford Hills. Approval was conditioned on the addition of decorative planting at the site, where Comisac sells and auctions trees for transplant.

Mount Kisco Medical Group. The group medical practice proposes to establish a three- to five-employee office for medical billing and other records in a 9,500-square-foot building on the former Arroway Chevrolet site in Katonah. In addition to the office, the medical practice would also establish a 40-space parking lot on the Arroway site to serve its current, parking-challenged Katonah office at 111 Bedford Road.

A short drive away, at 73-77 Bedford Road, a three-story, century-old (give or take) building still stands. Behind it, however, a foundation alone stands as a marker for the onetime site of a second three-story building. Plans had called for converting its first-floor retail space to offices and moving its third-floor, one-bedroom apartment to the second floor. The third floor, plans filed last year with the planning board showed, was to be removed, allowing the second floor apartment to enjoy vaulted ceilings.

Instead, the Helmes brothers—Steven, Kevin and Peter all addressed the board at different times Tuesday—acknowledged the building’s destruction. Peter Helmes said the renovation crew had found “structural elements were unsafe,” leading to the decision to take down the building rather than restore it, as the planning board had approved.

Bedford regards any “dwelling, commercial building or accessory building” built before 1900 and at least 200 square feet in area to be an historic building, subject to strict limits on its disposition and requirements for its preservation. The building on the Bedford Road site was described last year only as having been built “about 1900.”

Neither Town Historian John Stockbridge nor Assessor Thomas Polzella, whose office maintains tax records on buildings, could be reached for comment today.

Demolition of historic structures is explicitly forbidden by the town code. Breaches can be punished by fines of up to $250 or 15-day jail terms for each day a violation persists.

The Helmes Group, which also includes a fourth brother and their father, Bruce, represents Akonia Holdings LLC, a Connecticut investment company that bought the Bedford Road property last June for $1.46 million.

Town officials, who are known to take seriously their role as stewards of Bedford’s historical legacy, were sharply critical of the unilateral demolition decision. “We’d like to know ahead of time [when you plan to demolish a building],” Courtney-Batson told the Helmeses. She said the town historian, John Stockbridge, who also chairs the Historic Building Preservation Commission, “has been on the phone to me.”

Courtney-Batson, herself a member of the Katonah Historic District Commission, originally threatened a shutdown of further work at the renovation site, pending a determination of the buildings’ historical pedigree. “It should not take very long,” she said.

Steve Helmes bridled at the suggestion of a shutdown, calling it an unacceptable delay. Before any prolonged dispute could develop, however, board member John Sullivan proposed a compromise. “The reality is, I’ve got an eyesore sitting down there,” he said, referring to the onetime building’s foundation. Under his compromise plan, work would continue—up to three weeks, when the planning board next meets—while Helmes and the town establish whether the buildings were constructed before 1900. If they were, and the buildings are indeed historic, Sullivan said, the Historic Building Preservation Commission will determine appropriate mitigation and the Helmes Group will abide by the decision.  

The planning board closed out its long evening by formally voting on, and passing along to the town board for adoption, its proposed Dark Skies legislation governing Bedford’s use of exterior illumination.


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