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A proposal to preserve the historic structures and surroundings at the Underhill Farm property in Yorktown was overwhelmingly supported during a more than four-hour public hearing last week.
Under local preservation law, the Town Board was required to hold the Jan. 30 hearing after the Yorktown Heritage Preservation Commission submitted a formal recommendation to the board to landmark the property. The ultimate decision whether to earmark the 13.8-acre property as the town’s 16th landmark is in the hands of the Town Board.
“The property is undisputably historically significant,” stressed Lynn Briggs, chairperson of the Yorktown Heritage Preservation Commission, who gave a 30-minute, in-depth presentation. “Without landmarking, there is no guarantee the historic features of the main house will be preserved.”
On July 17, 2023, the Yorktown Planning Board unanimously approved the mixed-use project Underhill Farm on the property on Underhill Ave. that once housed the Soundview Preparatory School and Beaver Conference Farm.
The approval of the site plan and special permit gave Unicorn Contracting the go-ahead to construct 148 residential units – 68 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, 48 three- and four-bedroom townhouses and 32 one- and two-bedroom condominiums –and 15,600 square feet of commercial space, along with the restoration of the historic mansion that has become the central part of the site.
The project is located within the overlay zone in the Yorktown Heights business hamlet.
Unicorn representatives said the $60 million project, which was the subject of more than 20 meetings, will generate $13 million in property taxes over 10 years and offer much-needed housing for individuals 55 and older.
However, Briggs said there were no stipulations included in the Planning Board’s resolution that provides any protections for the historic mansion, other seven structures or the stone wall on the perimeter of the property.
“It’s among the town’s last architectural treasures,” Briggs said of the mansion. “This property is a scenic gateway to Yorktown.”
John McMenimon, a history teacher and member of the Westchester County Historical Society, was one of the more than 20 speakers who joined Briggs in her landmarking effort.
“Underhill Farm is Yorktown,” he said. “This family (the Underhill family) has played a significant role in the development of this town. It would be a shame to see it all go by the wayside.”
Another speaker said the mansion sits like “a majestic and dignified matriarch of the town.”
Planning Director John Tegeder said an historical report on the property was done in 2006 and the state later determined “there was no feasible alternative but to take down the out-buildings.”
“The town has known about the cultural resources of this property for years,” Tegeder said. “It’s clear there has been a detailed and deep investigation of this property.”
Town Building Inspector John Landi said the former chapel and two other buildings were falling down and one had a collapsed roof.
Mark Blanchard, attorney for Unicorn Contracting, which has pledged $1 million to preserve the mansion, said the mansion was a “central part of the site plan development.”
“We will maintain, incorporate and save the main house,” Blanchard said. “The (landmarking) application is being used as a tool for delay than an actual genuine representation.”
Acting Supervisor Ed Lachterman cautioned the mansion could still be knocked down even if landmarking was granted.
“It is a gateway for us,” acknowledged Lachterman, who noted he felt it was inappropriate to saddle a property owner with a landmarking designation. “The community is very concerned about the house remaining. The concerns over that building are great and we want assurances.”
Councilman Sergio Esposito reiterated “nothing is going to protect the building 100 percent” and mentioned preserving an historical structure is not an easy task.
“You don’t run to Home Depot to get material for historical preservation,” he said.
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/