Westchester County has filed a petition in state Supreme Court to relax requirements imposed on it at Merestead in Mount Kisco to increase public accessibility and raise money for rehabilitation and upkeep of the grounds.
County Legislator Kitley Covill (D-Katonah) and County Executive George Latimer led a tour Wednesday around part of the 130-acre former estate of Margaret Sloan Patterson and her husband Dr. Robert Patterson on Byram Lake Road to announce Westchester’s intentions.
Merestead was bequeathed to the county in 1982 to use as parkland and became county property when Mrs. Patterson died in 2000.
Covill said in the past few weeks the county filed a Petition for Equitable Deviation of an Indenture/Deed, Trust and Other Documents Concerning the Grant of Merestead in state Supreme Court in White Plains to seek relief from some of the limitations on use and requirements. She said some of the terms of the deed, trust and will, such as a requirement to feed the deer are silly. However, others, for example, that would prevent a security gate at the front entrance or a for-profit documentary filmmaker from using the property are unrealistic for a public park.
“It was just really like a frozen-in-time, don’t-do-anything (agreement) and for that kind of place that’s not only a shame but it also restricts it to the point of choking it off,” Covill said.
Requested changes, according to the county executive’s office, include liquidation of the entire balance of the trust fund left to care for the property, which is roughly $4.3 million; removal of restrictions to allow for broader use of the property without violating the goals and objectives of the Pattersons; and authorization to sell certain items from the property with the proceeds being dedicated to Merestead.
In the spring, county officials highlighted the deteriorating condition of some of the structures on the property. While grants have been applied for, the county needs a source of revenue from Merestead rather than raising taxes on Westchester property owners.
“We see the potential for Merestead to be a destination for many more people than currently enjoy the park’s offerings,” Latimer said. “Restrictions on the deed have limited the county to offer passive uses and certain artistic only (uses) but a committee of representatives from my administration and the Board of Legislators is currently working to ease restrictions to allow for additional public use and enjoyment of the property.”
If the county is successful in court, it could then retain a cultural planner to suggest additional uses and a path forward, Covill said.
She said it is difficult to predict the county’s chances of prevailing in court because of the unusual nature of the petition. Covill said she was unaware of an example of a similar request.
However, officials’ desire to have the financial wherewithal to maintain the land as well as having visitors enjoy the park is critical. Covill said the county wants to balance the wishes of Merestead’s former owners while maximizing the use of the land.
“In the end, I think our argument is compelling because we want to do that but you’ve got to help us out,” Covill said.
There is a late August return court date on the county’s petition, she said. It is not known how long it may take to get the issue resolved.
There have been certain limited uses at the park, including a small number of musical performances by artists under the auspices of Music from Copland House.
Merestead comprises a neo-Georgian country mansion that was built in 1907, and 12 additional outer buildings, including an historic farmhouse from 1850, carriage house and barn. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The mansion, which has an art collection and library, will soon be closed for major renovations.