Focus on a CAC

NYSACC would like to offer its members the opportunity to share with us the things they’ve done and provide us with information we can use. To start the ball rolling, the Town of Bedford Conservation Board presents a few of the things it cares about.

Short Description of Bedford

The town, composed of three hamlets, Bedford Hills, Bedford Village, and Katonah, is 39.42 square miles, with a population of 17,755 (2018). Although its location is about 40 miles north of New York City, it’s not your typical bedroom community. About 60% of its land is open space (having two NYC reservoirs, one nearly completely in Bedford, does help), and its history is quite unique. Founded in 1680, as a town in Connecticut, it was transferred to New York in a boundary dispute, settled by King William III of England. The town served as the county seat of Westchester County during the American Revolutionary War, until Bedford Village was burned by the British in July 1779. Bedford Village was rebuilt, and is now a national historic district. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, retired to Bedford, and his home, the Jay Homestead, is a historic state park.

 

The “Chapman” house being moved from Old Katonah to New Katonah circa 1900. Note the two horses circling a capstan post which in turn pull tow ropes attached to framing under the house. Owners, with their clothes drying on their front porch, lived in the house during the approximately 6 weeks move.

 

Katonah, the hamlet at the north end of town, was founded in the 1840’s when the railroad came north, and flourished as a stop on the daily milk train going south. However, in 1894, New York City ordered Katonah torn down due to their plans to enlarge the Croton Reservoir, at that time the city’s sole source of drinking water, which would inundate parts of Katonah that were too close. Instead, with the help of New York City, Katonah starting in 1897, and lasting 10 years, moved 55 of its large Victorian homes and barns, ¾ miles south to its present location, crossing a river and up and down hills, using only horsepower and laundry detergent lubricated, straight Georgian pine tracks. supported by wooden cribbing. The relocated homes form a national historic district.

 

The majestic “Bedford Oak”, symbol of the town, is estimated to be over 500 years, its girth is more than 23 feet, and the spread of its branches is 120 feet from tip to tip.

 

 

Conservation Board

Formed in 1969 as a CAC (possibly the 2nd oldest CAC in the state). Bedford became a Conservation Board in 1975. It presently has 9 full members and 3 associate members. Of its 9 full members, 3 members are required to be from each of its hamlets.

Site Visit Checklistevaluating an application that comes before one of our town’s regulatory boards/commissions for its environmental impact on our community is one of our core functions. It all starts with the site visit.

Here’s our one-page checklist. Feel free to copy or amend. We borrowed it from the Town of Yorktown Conservation Board. Remember: ALWAYS get the permission of the landowner, before you go onto their property. Yes, you may have the right, as applicant is before the town, but going on a property unannounced and not approved should never be done.

 

Ordinances that were initiated by the board or supported through its passage (this link connects to the Bedford Code, where the referenced chapters can be found):

  • Aquifer Protection (Chapter 125-29.4) – Bedford primarily gets its drinking water from ground wells. Using laws approved in Suffolk County, Long Island as a model, the town enacted an ordinance in 1986, proposed by the Conservation Board, regulating the use of land that overlays underground aquifers
  • Steep Slopes and Ridgelines ( Chapter 102) – seeing the need to protect steep slopes (identified as a slope 25% or greater within an area of 100 square feet), the Conservation Board proposed requiring any disturbance in these areas to be reviewed by the Planning Board. The Town Board adopted steep slope protection in 1989. After seeing development sitting on top of ridge lines in nearby communities, the Conservation Board proposed to regulate development within areas only visible from public roads. Spending countless hours riding the many miles of roads in Bedford, board members identified potential sites for protection. The Town Board adopted these protections and added them to the Steep Slopes ordinance in 2009. Working with the Westchester County GIS Department, the Conservation Board digitized the paper maps, which went public on the county’s map system in 2015.
  • Tree Preservation ( Chapter 112) – the Conservation Board presented a draft ordinance to protect and preserve town trees, which was adopted by the Town Board in 1986. However, after a period of time in operation, the Conservation Board revisited the entire ordinance, and replaced it with a new law, adopted by the Town Board in 1997, which added a stand-alone “Tree Advisory Board”, regulatory language on logging operations, and further defining what trees would be covered by this new law.
  • Exterior Illumination and Glare ( Chapter 125-41) – the Conservation Board initiated and worked with the Planning Board and Town Board on a series of additions to the town code that would regulate upward illumination and glare from exterior lighting fixtures. The so-called “Dark Skies” ordinance” was adopted by the Town Board in 2011.
  • Leaf Blowers ( Chapter 77) – pushed by such local organizations as Leaves Leave Alone, Healthy Yards, and Bedford 2020, the Conservation Board supported legislation adopted by the Town in 2018, regulating the use of gas powered leaf blowers.
  • Retain Single-Use Carry Out-Bags ( Chapter 98) – the Conservation Board initiated interest in regulating the use of single-use carry out bags (plastic and paper) with the Town Board. Other organizations in Bedford, such as Bedford 2020 and Healthy Yards took the lead, and with the Conservation Board’s strong support, the Town Board enacted a law in 2018.

 

Projects completed by the Conservation Board

  • Demonstration Rain Garden – in 2006 with some public funding, and many volunteer hours, the Conservation Board constructed a “Bedford” stonewall (built by Bedford’s wall watcher, a colonial-era position that originally determined stonewall designated property lines, but has been modernized to become a consultant to residents on preserving these historic structures), and a rain garden, which as green infrastructure allows rainwater runoff from hard surfaces, such as roofs and parking lots, to infiltrate into the ground in a native-planted depression. Alongside the garden, there is an explanatory plaque.
 

Photo by Susan Roos taken in 2018 with members of the Conservation Board doing maintenance and planting work on the Rain Garden located in front of Bedford Town Hall. The fellow in the center with the suit and tie is our Honorable Supervisor, Chris Burdick

 

  • Significant Habitat Map – in 2007, members of the Conservation Board along with the Planning Board chair joined with planning board members, open space members and the town supervisor of Somers, an adjoining town, on a 10-month program in biodiversity mapping of an intra-town 4,000-acre site. This project was sponsored by Hudsonia (https://hudsonia.org) under a grant from New York State. Deciding to expand their 2007 study to the entire town, the Conservation Board in 2012 began a years long project, that included members of the public and Hudsonia personnel. The project was completed in 2015, and the map was published on the town’s website and in Westchester County’s GIS data base (http://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapTools/index.html?appid=71bb5aaf05f34926b02ecb463acfbfcb).  The map has proved invaluable to the Conservation Board in their reviews of applications before various regulatory boards and commissions, showing how these local projects fit into a more regional context. The map took another turn during the spring of 2020, when the Conservation Board partnered with Healthy Yards and took iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/) observations uploaded by the public via iNaturalist to Healthy Yards’ website and transferred then to the “Significant Habitat Map”. The town is now building up a data base of wildlife.


 

  • Conservation Board “Green Awards” – started in 2011, from an idea of one of our members borrowed from Yonkers, NY, the Conservation has presented (more or less annually) its “Green Award” to an individual, school, NGO, or business, who has made their natural environment within Bedford a better place, and who has not received recognition before. The presentation occurs at a Town Board meeting, with the recipients describing their project, with the event ending with a photo in our local newspaper of that year’s recipients along with the Conservation Board and Town Board members. Win. Win. Win.

Public Outreach

One of the most important responsibilities that a Conservation Board can have is to get the message of good environmental planning and stewardship to the public. Conservation Boards, being a creature of their municipality, don’t have money to hire a public relations team, and certainly didn’t start off with an email list of interested individuals. So, it takes some time and brain-storming to find a way to reach residents. One lesson we’ve learned is to partner with other departments in our town, or other environmental groups. Here’s some of the ways we’ve tried to reach people with our message:

  • Social Media – we started a Bedford Conservation Board Face Book page two years ago, and it has slowly gained a following. It’s run by one of our members, who gave it a lot of thought prior to going live. We re-post from good sources, especially the Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as producing our own articles. Here’s our link: https://www.facebook.com/Town-of-Bedford-Conservation-Board-432285443827067/.
  • Bedford Recreation and Parks Department Newsletter – which is published quarterly. For no cost, we get a page. Here are some examples of articles that we’ve written (the graphics come from a terrific local graphic artist). To read each article, click on it.



  • Public Hikes – we partner annually with the owner of an interesting park or nature preserve, located in Bedford, to sponsor a hike open to the public. Our most successful one-day event involved having several naturalist led hikes on the grounds of Merestead (https://parks.westchestergov.com/historic-sites/merestead), a Westchester County park with spectacular views of the Catskills to the west, combined with a house tour of the historic home of William Sloane, president of W&J Sloane, a furniture store in Manhattan catering to the Rockefeller, Whitney and Vanderbilt families, which closed in 1985. The estate was deeded to the county by the owners’ family.
  • Covid – 2020 – The Conservation Board wanted to provide our community with outdoor activities that would be both safe and informative. We came up with two projects:
    1. iNaturalist Earth Day Challenge – every year iNatualist sponsors a 4-day competition around Earth Day, asking communities around the world to submit observations, with “bragging rights” given to communities with the most sightings, broken into categories based on their population. This year, because of Covid, they called the event a “Challenge”, rather than a competition. Our board had planned on the competition since December, 2019, holding both live iNaturalist teaching sessions open to the public, as well as on-line videos produced by our board in cooperation with Healthy Yards. Lastly, we pushed the “Challenge” hard by contacting every major town organization, and writing up stories in our local newspapers and our Face Book page. The result was better than we could ever hope. Our small town produced more observations than cities up to 800 times larger, including: Tokyo, Japan, Savannah, Georgia, the entire state of Hawai’i, Madrid, Spain, Wilmington, Del., New Orleans combined with southwest Louisiana, Youngstown, Ohio, Naples, Italy, Barcelona, Spain, Lisbon, Portugal, and Rochester, NY. As one of our organizers said: Bedford was “The green little town that could!”.          

    2. Sunflower Project – As part of the Earth Day celebrations planned before Covid hit, we were going to plant 400 sunflowers in peat pots and give them out freely at various events, including our town’s Arbor Day celebration, to as many homes in our Environmental Justice neighborhoods, and, of course, at the main 50th Anniversary Earth Day commemoration. However, Covid cancelled all these events. So, instead, through the generosity of a local gardening center, as well as a member of our board, we prepared over 800 packets, in waxed paper envelopes, containing 12 sunflower seeds and instructions on planting, and set up an unmanned honor system distribution center outside at our town offices.

    With a massive advertising campaign, the 800 packets were picked up within 2 weeks, including 50 that a master gardener living in an Environmental Justice area distributed to her neighbors. We asked only one thing: plant the seeds at the front of your homes so that they can be seen by the public.   We will ask residents to send in photos of their sunflowers in August, and post them on our town’s website, and our Board’s Face Book page.

    Here’s the poster we used (designed by the teenage daughter of our board recording secretary):       

        

          

Simon Skolnik

Simon Skolnik is the President of NYSACC and Chair of the Town of Bedford Conservation Board. A trained civil engineer, Mr. Skolnik devoted his career to the management of public and private sector construction projects. He was first appointed to the Bedford Conservation Board in 1985 and became Chair in 1995. He joined the NYSACC Board of Directors in 1989, was elected Vice President in 1995, and elected President in 2019.

Besides their historic role in the protection of open space, Mr. Skolnik views Conservation Advisory Commissions and Boards as among the most vital and important institutions in combating climate change locally and mitigating its effects on the natural and built environments.