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Mount Kisco Delays Decision on Cell Tower Relocation, Eminent Domain

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The Mount Kisco Village Board delayed making decisions last week on whether to launch eminent domain proceedings for a key 25-acre parcel and relocate a cell tower proposed for that land to Leonard Park.

Officials entertained more public discussion on the separate but related issues at the board’s Feb. 23 meeting as matters regarding a cell tower and solar farm proposed for the property at 180 S. Bedford Rd. continued to unfold. Applications for both projects are currently before the village’s Planning Board.

During the eminent domain hearing, opponents of the cell tower and solar farm, many of whom have spoken of the environmental sensitivity of the land, urged the board to consider both actions. However, a petition signed by 13 residents and two of three letters that were received as of last week by the village opposed eminent domain, said Mayor Gina Picinich.

“This tool cannot be used because some people oppose a proposed use on a property,” Picinich said. “It’s not a tool that’s supposed to be used to stop a project. It is a tool to be used for the public good, for the land to be used for the public good, and in our case, in our instance, the public good is open space and parkland to be opened for our community.”

Mount Kisco is obligated to site a cell tower on the eastern side of the village to close cell phone coverage gaps along the Route 172 corridor. In 2020, Homeland Towers submitted the application for the South Bedford Road land.

The choices facing residents and the Village Board are whether to take no action on the proposed tower relocation and permit the Planning Board to continue its review of that application, or approve moving it to a largely secluded spot in the 116-acre Leonard Park. Homeland Towers has not appeared before the Planning Board for a full year as it has searched for alternative locations to the 3,200-square-foot space on the South Bedford Road property, which has received intense opposition.

If the Village Board approved relocation, it would then be forced to replace the lost 4,550-square feet of parkland plus the roughly 550-foot-long, 12-foot-wide gravel access road leading to the tower at Leonard Park. The two options would be to use village-owned land on Kisco Mountain or acquire the 25 acres at 180 S. Bedford Rd. through eminent domain. The 25 acres are currently owned by an entity called Skull Island Partners, which paid $1.5 million for the land in 2013.

Should the village go through with eminent domain and obtain the land it would also scuttle the proposed solar farm. The public hearing on that application was closed last Tuesday night by the Planning Board.

During last Wednesday’s hearing, residents and interested parties mostly spoke favorably of considering eminent domain. Sarles Street resident Rex Pietrobono, who’s the closest resident to the site about 280 feet away, urged the village to do what it can to acquire it so future generations can enjoy a network of trails that is planned for this and other properties.

“It’s a beautiful property,” Pietrobono said. “It’s a gem. It’s one of the, if not the last large tract, of undeveloped land in Mount Kisco. So this is a one-time shot at getting it. If you don’t do it now, it’s going to be gone forever.”

Meadowbrook Lane resident Ralph Vigliotti said over the past two years more people have realized the importance of open space and preserving habitats than ever before.

“We’re not planting trees, we’re protecting trees so our children and our grandchildren and their children can sit in the shade, that we can slow down the urbanization of what we call our Village of Mount Kisco,” Vigliotti said.

John Stockbridge, a member of the board of Marsh Sanctuary, which borders the land, said keeping the land as open space would be beneficial to Mount Kisco and its residents.

“You’re preserving the character of the village, you’re doing something that’s excellent for the village and I’m very enthusiastic,” Stockbridge said. “Anything that you need the Marsh Sanctuary to do and support, I’m there.”

The only person to speak against eminent domain was Pine Street resident William Meyer.

“As a taxpayer of the Town of Mount Kisco, I find spending our open space budget on this is ill-advised,” Meyer said. “I would not want my money to be spent in this way.”

Picinich said there is currently about $1.3 million in the village’s open space fund, which wouldn’t be enough for the purchase, requiring other sources of money to be obtained. A couple of weeks earlier the mayor said she would be opposed to borrowing to help pay for the parcel.

Cell Tower Relocation

There was a greater split during a later discussion on whether to make Leonard Park the site for the cell tower. After questions were raised as to whether the village could use the park for commercial purposes, Village Attorney Whitney Singleton explained that there are five deeds that stipulate the village may use the parkland if it is not being fully utilized as long as the village exchanges at least comparable land.

The park was created on land donated by the Leonard family, who lived in the village for three generations starting in the 19th century, and the Wallace family, which owned the old Reader’s Digest property in Chappaqua.

Lifelong Mount Kisco resident Louis Terlizzi said the village should honor the wishes of the family who donated the property to create the park. Also, the Bedford Historical Society, a party to the deed for the Guard Hill property, will not permit Homeland Towers to use the tower there.

“It sounds like you’re looking for justification to violate the deed,” Terlizzi said. “Bedford’s not willing to do it; I don’t see why Mount Kisco should.”

Resident Kathy Feeney, a former Leonard Park Committee member, said it was clear that the intent of the Leonard and Wallace families was to preserve their acreage as parkland.

David Grant, the closest resident to the Leonard Park site at about 1,000 feet, said not only his viewshed would suffer, but others as well. The monopole would be about 130 feet tall.

“This is not just about the park, this is also about a number of houses, a number of families that will have a wonderful view of this tower,” he said.

Singleton advised the board that with the closure of the public hearing for the solar farm and the Planning Board possibly faced with making a decision on the cell tower as soon as Mar. 22, the Village Board will have to decide on the matter soon. He said federal telecommunications law provides the village with little latitude since Homeland Towers has proved a coverage gap.

“These are not easy decisions, but the problem is they’re not new either,” Singleton said. “This is a process that has gone on for years and the applicant wants to keep the fire to your feet, the village’s feet. They’re willing to grant extensions if they’re seeing progress.”

The state legislature would have to approve the village’s parkland alienation, which could take up to a year, he added.

Picinich said the Village Board wants to hear from more residents and encouraged the public to send their comments. The issues will be discussed again at the board’s Mar. 7 meeting.

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