Chappaqua’s Buttonhook Development Would Desecrate Sacred Site

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This column was written and submitted by Victoria Alzapiedi, Tracey Bilski, Kate Brady, Hermian Charles, Bill Connors, Haley Ferraro, Stacy & Robert Morgan, Maxine Margo Rubin, Cristina Shih and Lynn Trotta on behalf of Friends of Buttonhook.

There is about to be a decision on whether to issue a key stormwater permit for six luxury homes that would be built atop a sacred Native American ceremonial stone complex that was recently discovered deep in the woods in Chappaqua. 

The permit application is in front of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that is responsible for protecting the city’s watershed and reservoirs.
Multiple Native American tribes have made clear that this stone complex is of the highest spiritual and cultural value. It has been the location of rituals throughout the year for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the tribal communities were driven off this land. Native American researchers and an archeology team have declared this a sacred site of critical historical significance and one that should be studied and preserved.
Native American descendants view this location as uniquely important and irreplaceable. The indigenous peoples who walked the lands of modern-day Chappaqua hold a deep understanding of the value of keeping this complex intact. For them, this area is tantamount to what we would understand as a church, synagogue or mosque today. It is precious and irreplaceable. Destroying a site of such spiritual meaning would be yet another traumatic assault on their people and their heritage and there are not many intact complex areas like this left. Losing it would be tragic, and some have argued as horrific as the treatment that Native Americans have historically endured when driven from their homes in this town.

Today, we speak out to prevent another chapter of cultural erasure. 

Unfortunately, the city isn’t concerned with protecting and preserving the Native American history recently discovered in this forest if it issues a permit without full consideration of impact to these vital resources.

The DEP is currently evaluating the stormwater permit application submitted by the developer and owner of this land, the Chappaqua Central School District. This permit would be another critical step toward final approval before the New Castle Planning Board for the development of this 20.3-acre forest – a surplus parcel of land owned by the district called the Buttonhook/Zauderer site. 

The stormwater permit will result in negative impacts to this ceremonial complex and to the spiritual meaning of the site that is closely tied to the water and the ecology of this land. We urge further study that the impact the stormwater permit would have and a full consideration of the long-term implications of such a permit to make this land buildable. That requires ongoing operation and maintenance obligations left to a homeowners’ association with no guarantees of proper maintenance.

The stormwater permit is meant to address and protect sensitive streams in the city’s watershed on both sides of this forest that cascade into the Croton Reservoir. But this housing plan would bring known and unknown changes to water and to its spiritual value demonstrated by the Native Americans’ marking of this site with ceremonial stone engravings centuries ago. 

The Buttonhook land, as it now sits, is a stunningly beautiful expansive and untouched rocky hilltop forest with steep slopes. The housing plan also calls for the clear-cutting of 676 trees and forested woodlands – currently a rich, untouched and unspoiled wildlife habitat for bobcats, coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, countless songbirds, mammals and beneficial insects who call this forest their home. They will all be displaced if these trees are clear-cut – at a time when expansive woodland wildlife habitats of this type are increasingly difficult to find here in New Castle. 
As New Castle residents, we are today’s land stewards with a responsibility to respect and honor the Indigenous people who were the first caretakers of this land. We hope the city and the New Castle Planning Board will be on the right side of history and take a thorough and cautious approach to fully understand what is at stake and to prevent the needless desecration of this sacred site in our forest.
As an ever-increasing group of concerned citizens, currently more than 50 people, we want to offer to the Chappaqua School District an alternative – to make it possible for them to withdraw their plan to develop this area and to consider the benefits to the district, the community and to the invaluable spiritual and historical value of this land, instead of selling for development of the Buttonhook forest.

There are viable and common-sense alternatives, like a purchase of this land so it can be turned over to a nonprofit organization to be preserved as open space in perpetuity. To that end, an effort is underway to help raise funds to purchase the Buttonhook land from the district. For more information, visit www.preservebuttonhook.org or contact us at PreserveButtonhook@gmail.com.
Please join us in this time sensitive effort to better understand, to appreciate, and most importantly, to save this sacred forest.

 

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