June 15, 2012

Stepping Stones was a house first, museum second

Thousands of visitors over the years have paid homage to Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson — known as “Bill W.” — and his wife, Lois, by making a visit to the former home of the couple on Oak Road in Bedford Hills. The home is known as Stepping Stones, and is now maintained as a museum and destination for students and visitors. Last year there were a little more than 2,700 visitors.

For decades the house was something of an open secret, known to people in the AA organization primarily but little known outside of that relatively small circle. With the growth of popularity of recovery programs and the importance of AA as the cornerstone of 12-step programs, the legacy of Lois and Bill has been enhanced, and spread on what is literally a global scale.

What really ratcheted up the level of Stepping Stones’ popularity as a destination was being named a local landmark by the state’s office of parks, recreation, and historic preservation. In 2004, Stepping Stones was designated a state historic site and in 2005 was awarded the prestigious listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s official list of properties worthy of preservation, “which recognizes the importance of these properties to the history of our country and provides them with a measure of protection.”

This remarkable achievement shifted the dynamic and brought a new focus to the property. The number of visitors inched up, and the ongoing legacy of the Wilsons encouraged new interest. But in the process, neighbors complained about traffic, crowds and noise — they charged that the operation has outgrown the neighborhood and threatens their quality of life, especially in summer.

Residents have said that this is a commercial, not a residential, enterprise, inappropriate for the area.

A six-page protocol, which was last revised in early April, has been developed to provide clear guidelines for Stepping Stones to follow to limit impact on the neighborhood. Planning board chairman Dr. Donald Coe said the board will issue a recommendation to the town board regarding Stepping Stones’ application for a special use permit for a 13-space gravel parking lot on the 8.5-acre site.

Along with language regulating the number of visitors, other key points outlined in the protocol are that guided tours will be available Monday through Saturday between noon and 3 p.m. or by appointment only on Sunday. A 1 p.m. tour will continue to be offered every day except Sunday. There will also be no more than 14 tours per week and three in one day. For large events, shuttle bus service will bring visitors to and from the site.

Neighbors say that under proposed rules, Stepping Stones will have too much leeway for additional growth. Under the proposed terms, the organization would be allowed to hold eight large events throughout the year and up to three a month where there are more than 75 visitors at a time. Other than the annual June picnic, when the crowd can reach up to 750, the number of visitors is capped at 200 a day.

It is clear that even under the rules, neighbors are being asked to put up with a lot of commotion. Bedford must actively protect their interests as residents and taxpayers. Stepping Stones, in the meantime, must reach out to their neighbors in ways they have not done in the past. While they may have an international presence, they must not forget that their first obligation is to the town of Bedford. Perhaps Stepping Stones should consider relocating its picnics and group events to a park or public building, while reserving the home for a limited number of visitors with prearranged appointments.

This was the “home” of Bill and Lois — and the same respect that was due to them during their years here must be maintained for those who seek to live their lives without tour buses and crowds.

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Bedford Village

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  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


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Mount Kisco

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Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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