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Benaims Win the Battle of the Belfry's Demo

Town board orders preservation of bell tower but otherwise permits wrecker's ball to raze structure

A Bedford Hills couple can proceed with plans to demolish a century-old, architecturally distinctive Katonah structure—but must preserve an architectural feature known as "the Belfry," town officials declared Tuesday.

Overturning a preservation panel’s injunction against the demolition, the town board told Carlos and Darel Benaim the Belfry’s tower must be preserved. The Belfry includes a seal on the outside of the house, above the front door, and includes a living space inside the house, according to the Benaim's attorney, Alfred B. DelBello of White Plains.

The board outlined options for the tower's future, including its elocation or incorporation into a new home.

The ruling appeared not only to clear the way for the new home's construction but also to forestall legal action against the town. the decision of the Historic Building Preservation Commission, DelBello, warned of a lawsuit. His April letter warned that the town’s “general welfare” has been “put in substantial jeopardy by the potential for protracted litigation.”

On Tuesday, he introduced Dr. Darel Benaim , a psychologist and psychoanalyst. Her husband, Carlos, is a world-famous perfumer.    

Addressing the town board, she described an “arduous, expensive and deeply disappointing process” the couple has encountered since February 2011, after paying $3.6 million for the sprawling, Tudor revival-style structure. Built in 1913, it occupies 16 acres of wooded, gently rolling hills off Holly Branch Road.

“Our plan from the outset was to design a beautiful home of stone, wood and glass,” Benaim said, to replace the Belfry. A local broker, she said, had described the aging structure as a “tear-down.”

But after plans had been drawn for “an exquisite home and garden to be tucked discreetly into our hill,” she recalled, the Benaims abruptly learned about a privately held document. The Survey of Historic Buildings, as it was called, listed more than 500 Bedford properties with potential historical significance. It identified potentially protected historic properties and rendered them subject to any restrictions prescribed by the town’s Historic Building Preservation Commission. But the list was not publicly available or even widely known, she said.

“There are buyers like us purchasing encumbered homes under misleading circumstances because this list was kept secret,” Benaim said.

“Had your Survey been a transparent document,” she told board members, pausing now between words for emphasis, “clearly we would not have purchased this property.”

Still, Benaim reminded the board, “It’s not too late for this town to do the right thing.”

Bedford Town Historian John Stockbridge reiterated the commission’s position but the town board, after briefly huddling in executive session to discuss the matter, reconvened with a “tear-it-down” resolution.

Under it, the bell tower will be preserved, Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said. The tower will either stay in its present location, incorporated into whatever new home the Benaims build, or as a standalone structure while the new home is built elsewhere. Alternatively, Roberts said, the tower could be moved to another designated site on the property while the new home rises without it.                              

Editor's note: The story originally referred to the portion of the house that must be preserved as "the bell tower," but it is known as "the belfry." We regret the error.

Lisa Buchman (Editor) May 16, 2012 at 05:00 PM
We followed up with the Benaim's attorney, Al Del Bello today—the couple declined to be interviewed last night—who said they were very pleased with the outcome. "It was a good resolution to a difficult problem," he said. The couple plans to work with the Belfry in designing a new home.
Earth Ocean Sky Redux May 16, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Lisa: My readers are uniformly against the Town having ANY say in this matter, angry that The Benaims are subjected to a the Board dictating the future of a property, while pretty, was not labeled, nor designated historic at the time of their purchase. It's scary when a Town can say "keep and restore" without understanding the amount of money involved to do that. What would the rest of us do were we in the place of The Benaims? I think they were the epitome of grace and dignity last night and the town should KISS THEIR FEET for accepting this motion and not furthering the lawsuit. http://earthoceanskyredux.com/2012/05/15/the-belfry-demolition-permit-to-be-granted/

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