A longtime Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) member received one of the most prestigious planning awards that can be presented to a local resident.
Steven Kavee, who has served on the CAC for close to 30 years, including the last 10 years as its chair, was honored Monday night with the Distinguished Citizen Planner by the Westchester Municipal Planning Federation. The award is given to one county resident each year who has made outstanding contributions to planning in Westchester.
Kavee said he was attracted to planning, particularly from an environmental perspective, early on as an adult. A Long Island native, he moved to the Briarcliff Manor portion of Mount Pleasant more than 30 years ago and first served on that village’s Conservation Advisory Council before moving on to serve with the town.
“I always believed that if there are things that need to get done to right the things that are wrong, you need to be active and involved, and in your community that’s the best place to start,” Kavee said of his interest in conservation issues. “It has to start local and what I discovered was land use was basically one of the best things you could do as an individual where you could actually have impact on people’s lives and how the world could be a better place.”
While protection of the environment is a top priority, he said a CAC member shouldn’t be dogmatic in opposing all development. There are times when a project is clearly wrong for a location or the town, but Kavee said his approach is to present the Planning Board or the Town Board with facts to help a board reach an informed decision.
“If a Conservation Advisory Council can provide factual, science-based, objective analysis, they can be a support service for the planning person and for the Planning Board and they can work in partnership,” Kavee explained. “The CAC has to be complementary in its approach and part of that means you can’t go in and say you can’t build this.”
There are exceptions, of course, such as the CAC’s strong opposition this past summer to the proposed solar farm on a portion of Gate of Heaven Cemetery. After initially being receptive to it, the town’s Planning Board objected to the application, citing, in large part, the multiple acres of trees that would have had to be cleared and the potential consequences related to runoff.
While Kavee seemed a bit sheepish to talk about his award and contributions to Mount Pleasant, Mary Hegarty, a former Mt. Pleasant CAC member and environmental professor at Westchester Community College, was a driving force behind his consideration.
In a cover letter to the federation, Hegarty wrote that Kavee is a model for how an advisory board member should present recommendations, by speaking precisely and methodically while doing his homework beforehand.
She said that she composed the letter because Kavee is exceedingly humble and shuns the limelight, but his contributions have helped the Town of Mount Pleasant.
“He’s not anti-development,” Hegarty said of an assumption some residents make about CACs. “Development is going to happen so how can we do it smart, in a smart way? How can we do it requesting that the applicant plants only native plants, for example?”
Kavee said municipal officials of all backgrounds and points of view are sitting up and taking notice that they must consider impacts of climate change as severe storms occur more frequently. He said nature can be an ally
“Nature can be a zero-cost ally in creating a neutral form of infrastructure that provides for protection from stormwater impact,” Kavee explained. “Not 100 percent, but when you have woodlands and wetlands, you have the environmental services that they provide, and when you have them, they’re an adjunct, an auxiliary to the infrastructure that may exist now.”