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Mt. Kisco Residents Voice Split Sentiments Over Eminent Domain

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Mount Kisco residents were split last week over whether the village should use eminent domain to acquire a 25-acre parcel as opponents criticized officials for approving the cell tower relocation from that site to Leonard Park.

About 10 residents spoke at the resumption of the public hearing on Mar. 21 regarding the potential purchase of land at 180 S. Bedford Rd., where a ground-mounted solar array is still being proposed. Two weeks earlier, the Village Board agreed in a controversial 4-1 vote to move the tower proposed by Homeland Towers to a lightly-used area of the park. Homeland Towers has not appeared before the town’s Planning Board regarding its proposal in over a year.

The village is considering this site or municipal property on Kisco Mountain to replace the roughly quarter-acre needed to site the cell tower at Leonard Park.

Several of those who argued against initiating eminent domain proceedings reminded the board of what they described as an ill-advised decision earlier this month and implored officials against compounding their mistake by undertaking a costly procedure for the South Bedford Road land.

Resident Robert D’Agostino urged fellow residents to pressure the board against making an exceedingly expensive purchase.

“Wake up Mount Kisco, tell the Village Board to stop this process immediately,” D’Agostino said. “Do not allow the Village Board to use this apparent cost-prohibitive process to clear their conscience for the proposed industrial destruction of Leonard Park.”

The 25-acre property was bought by an entity called Skull Island Partners more than eight years ago for $1.5 million, a price that has almost certainly escalated. Mayor Gina Picinich said Mount Kisco has about $1.3 million in its open space fund, but it is unclear what the price tag would be.

Former mayor Michael Cindrich said during his tenure he unsuccessfully tried to have the New York City Department of Environmental Protection buy the 25 acres. His administration also sought to buy the property by using open space funds for active recreation, such as Little League fields, but the Town of Bedford wouldn’t agree to access off of Sarles Street.

Cindrich complimented the previous board for rezoning the land for solar use, a commendable step given the need to transition to renewable energy.

“I think we have to have a sharing of minds, a sharing of knowledge, a history of the property,” Cindrich said. “I think we have to do more than we’re doing before we go down the road toward eminent domain.”

Conservation Board Chairman John Rhodes said while acquisition of the land would be expensive, there are grants that could be sought as well as residents with resources who would be willing to help bridge the gap between what’s in the open space fund and whatever the purchase price might be.

“In my opinion, in a town where we have tremendous development pressure, where we have three or four times the developed space of any of the towns around here, we need to take every chance we have to preserve open space that we have for the people of the town and we need to spend that money we saved up,” Rhodes said.

Resident Ralph Vigliotti, another proponent of preserving the property, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation also has money available that can be sought to preserve open space and the village should aggressively pursue those funds.

With the land adjacent to March Sanctuary and the possibility of the 25 acres being used as part of a trail system, the village should seriously consider making the purchase, he said.

“This is an opportunity, and fortunately, you have the opportunity to make some decisions that could be a plus for the village,” Vigliotti said.

Picinich said the question before the Village Board regarding eminent domain is about purchasing the land for the public good, which is unrelated to zoning matters.

“I, for one, stand by very strongly the overall decision that we made in implementing the solar zoning,” Picinich said.

After the formal hearing was adjourned until the board’s Apr. 4 meeting, several opponents of the purchase and cell tower relocation returned to speak during public comments, accusing the board of concealing its intentions of using the park for the cell tower from the Leonard Park and Recreation committees.

Kim Terlizzi, a Recreation Committee member, said considering how slowly government typically works, it struck her as strange the tower relocation was pushed through so quickly. She said at the very least there should have been a formal public hearing.

“We were really in the dark until a little over a month ago, and you were telling only one (committee) member who was told not to tell any of us about what was going on to approving (the relocation) a few short weeks later,” Terlizzi said.

Picinich reiterated that her reason for supporting the park is because it would be further from the closest home. It is estimated the closest house to the tower in the park would be about 1,000 feet, as opposed to about 200 feet on South Bedford Road.

Trustee Karine Patino added that the board made the best decision it could in a bad situation. The difference, compared to three years ago, is that the submission of a formal application is forcing the village to make a decision with a federally-regulated deadline.

“At the end of the day, you have to balance out what you’re working with and sometimes it doesn’t seem right, but there is a method to why we got there, and I do think that the revenue going directly into the park is something that, in the worst of situations, is still going to be a benefit for our community,” Patino said.

Officials have said that by using the park, the village would receive the biggest service enhancement as opposed to neighboring municipalities as well as the lease money, which will be used for the park.

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