This is the second installment of our look back at some of 2020’s top news stories in our communities. We wrote the first column in this series in mid-December. At the time, it was already difficult to see past the immediate national threats of the raging pandemic and the unsettled post-election transition. Today, that challenge is, unthinkably, even greater. We sit here stunned and disgusted by the violent assault on our nation’s Capitol on Wednesday by right-wing mobs that refuse to accept the results of the November election, spurred to action by our outgoing president. Surely, this dark moment is history-making. It is also consuming, raising so many questions about culpability and what’s next for our shaken country. Maybe that’s all the more reason we should pause, even briefly, to remember some of the key local accomplishments and debates that stood out in the last six months of 2020.
July marked the beginning of a new phase of reopening as COVID-19 restrictions were somewhat eased. It was a busy month. In politics, former County Executive Rob Astorino announced he would challenge incumbent Pete Harckham for a local state Senate seat. Chris Burdick topped a field of five in the Democratic primary for state assembly. To the delight of families everywhere, town pools and camps reopened on a delayed schedule with many new safety protocols. Some libraries also reopened. John Jay High School finally settled on a new mascot — the Wolves. A multimillion-dollar sidewalk improvement project, which ripped up Scotts Corners, was finally completed. Pound Ridge Police helped nab an international fugitive at his home, gaining entry under the ruse of conducting a routine security alarm check.
August started with a bang as Tropical Storm Isais lashed the area with rain and damaging winds, causing widespread, extended blackouts, fallen trees and blocked roads. The Town of Pound Ridge purchased a 21-acre parcel on Old Pound Road for recreational and other possible uses. Caramoor said goodbye to Jeff Haydon, its CEO of eight years, who led a successful rebuilding and capital raising campaign.
In September, Interstate 684 glistened with fresh new paving along a 2-mile stretch to Exit 6, as state transportation crews completed the much-needed $9.5 million repair work. After extensive planning and community feedback sessions, local schools opened at last with a hybrid in-person/remote learning model featuring rotating “cohorts.” The economic impact of coronavirus became clear as all towns saw their budget woes rising from sharp drops in fees and other income. A judge sentenced former Lewisboro Town justice Marc Seedorf to six months in prison for federal tax evasion. Michael Hoagland was named executive director of the Bedford Playhouse. In Bedford, Climate Week programs examined ways residents could contribute to lowering harmful greenhouse gases, and also helped launch the newly-named Bedford 2030. Pound Ridge earned designation as a Climate Smart Community, one of only several dozen in New York state.
October began with the first COVID-19 cases reported in Katonah-Lewisboro Schools (that number would grow to 60-plus in KLSD and to 120-plus in Bedford Central). Lewisboro’s large affordable housing project was cleared to proceed after a judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging the town planning board had mishandled the approval process. In Pound Ridge, crews completed demolition of the former gas station at 77 Westchester Ave., a major step in the plan to transform the once-derelict site in the heart of Scotts Corners into a vibrant village green. In Bedford, neighbors voiced strong objections to a cell tower proposed for Stone Hill Road, while voters approved by a wide margin Phase II of the Katonah-Bedford Hills Sewer Project. Early voting in the general elections draws long lines at the only local voting site, the Pound Ridge Town House. Everyone improvised for Halloween.
The general election in November brought victories in Lewisboro for Richard Sklarin on the town board and John Pappalardo for town justice, but tallies of record numbers of absentee ballots didn’t make Mr. Burdick and Mr. Harckham official winners until late in the month. The Bedford Fire District placed a $14.75 million bond to finance the new firehouse. Lewisboro’s Town Board proposed a large increase in the 2021 police budget to fund the hiring of more officers and eased regulations on accessory units to help boost the supply of affordable housing. Justice reform committees in all three towns continued to hold discussions examining local police practices. Amy Fishkin, principal of Pound Ridge Elementary School, was named to a senior district position.
The year’s final month saw a spike in COVID-19 cases in all three towns. Yet, hospital officials reported fewer hospital stays for patients with the virus than in the spring due to more effective treatment. Bedford Central advanced a plan for a solar farm facility near West Patent Elementary School and the Bedford Planning Board evaluated another proposal near the Mount Kisco border. Town boards devised budget strategies to keep finances reasonably sound in spite of COVID’s impact.
Finally, there was the lighthearted story about a llama named Gizmo whose escape and recovery grabbed national headlines. For many, that was just the distraction we needed after a year of such loss, disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the election. Our hope for 2021 is that we will land on safe and firmer ground.