The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 
Neighbors, Stepping Stones at odds on traffic
By MARTIN WILBUR
Traffic consultants for Stepping Stones and the Town of Bedford must review a revised protocol that imposes guidelines designed to limit disturbance to neighbors living near the historic site on Oak Road.
That was the conclusion reached by the planning board at its Feb. 21 meeting after sharp disagreement continued to simmer between the applicant and residents in close proximity to the former home of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. The planning board is weighing a recommendation to the town board for a special use permit Stepping Stones is seeking to obtain that would allow the organization to construct a new 13-space parking area on the grounds.
Last week, the planning board spent more than an hour editing and revising portions of the six-page proposed protocol in hopes of mitigating as much impact on the neighborhood as possible, particularly on weekends from spring to early fall. The site, which is on the state and national registers of historic places and could receive landmark status, last year had about 2,750 visitors to the property, including about 450 attendees at its annual picnic in June, said executive director Annah Perch.
Whitney Singleton, the attorney representing Stepping Stones, said the months-long process of trying to agree on a protocol has been frustrating because his client has continually made concessions to the neighbors without resolution from the board. He reiterated a previous argument that it has long been an active site and the number of trips to and from the property are similar to that of a typical private home, albeit compressed into less than half the year.
“For 70 years we’ve had people coming to the site before a single house was built,” Mr. Singleton said.
Previously, Mr. Singleton and Ms. Perch agreed to limiting the number of “large events,” which would consist of a maximum of 12 days of 75 or more visitors. That had been changed from the original proposal of six days of 100 or more. The number of visitors for any one day was capped to 200 except for the annual picnic after a couple of busy Saturdays last September caused headaches for neighbors. The annual picnic would not count toward the number of large events, and it would have a maximum capacity of 750.
At last week’s meeting, longtime Oak Road resident Diane Briganti, who lives directly across the street from the property, once again pressed the board for assurances that Stepping Stones wouldn’t be a burden on the community. In recent years, it has expanded operations far beyond what the neighborhood can sustain, operating similarly to a museum, she said.
“If it was up to me, 50 people maximum, that’s it, per day,” Ms. Briganti said. “Now we can get 200, and 750 on their picnic day.” 
While the board did not address her request to further restrict the number of visitors, they did call on Stepping Stones and the town’s traffic consultants to review the latest edition of the protocol before sending it along to the town board. 
“We’ve taken care of a lot of the concerns you have raised,” board chairman Dr. Donald Coe told Ms. Briganti and her husband, Joseph. “Life is full of compromises.”
The board decided that it wanted traffic consultants for both the town and the applicant to evaluate the guidelines because of potential environmental impacts. Director of planning Jeffrey Osterman said if the board concluded that traffic could have a significant effect on the area that under the state Environmental Quality Review it should call for the consultants’ input.
After listening to the residents’ concerns, the board decided that Sunday during the height of the season has been a popular day for crowds to visit and poses a threat to the neighborhood’s tranquillity. In 2009, for example, there were 14 Sundays that the site was open to visitors, Stepping Stones records revealed.
“My first reaction is to see if discouraging works, and if discouraging doesn’t work, we’ll have to see what else,” board member Deirdre Courtney-Batson said.
Stepping Stones has already agreed to prohibit coach buses from entering the site. On large event days 28-seat school buses would shuttle visitors to and from off-site parking at the train station. Most of the tours would continue to be held between noon and 3 p.m., with the daily tour beginning at 1 p.m. Appointments must be made for all other tours. Amplification will also be prohibited on the grounds. 

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March 2, 2012