New parking and other changes at the onetime home of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson progressed under a conditional green light from Bedford’s town board earlier this week.
In return for a formal town board declaration that the development plans do not pose an environmental threat, Stepping Stones Foundation, the philanthropy now maintaining Wilson’s longtime Katonah residence at 62 Oak Road, agreed Tuesday to a series of “protocols.”
The guidelines set out such things as hours of operation, number of permitted visitors and events, and even the length of buses negotiating the compact neighborhood’s narrow roads. Some residents living nearby have complained about traffic, parking and crowds at the site.
Stepping Stones’ modest victory followed a rare joint work session of the elected town board and volunteer planning board, which enforces compliance with Bedford’s land-use code. The town board asked for planning input after the foundation proposed in 2011 to rework the estate’s lone entrance and exit, and to build and screen off a parking area with spaces for 14 cars.
The plans face further regulatory hurdles at the zoning, planning and—in a return appearance—town boards. Stepping Stones must still seek a variance from the zoning board of appeals, site-plan approval from the planning board and a special-use permit from the town board. Public hearings will accompany each of those required stops.
In Tuesday’s procedural step, the town board acted as lead agency in assessing any environmental impact caused by the Stepping Stones proposal. Finding the plan would have none—a “negative declaration”—the board then decided not to require a formal environmental impact statement.
William Griffith Wilson, who founded the 12-step recovery program Alcoholics Anonymous, lived for 30 years in the Oak Road Colonial Revival. Before he died in 1971, Bill W. wrote there, setting down much of the creed subscribed to today by recovering alcoholics around the world. For countless numbers of them, touched by Wilson's words, Stepping Stones remains a shrine, beckoning them like pilgrims.
But unhappy neighbors insist that over the years, especially since Lois Wilson's 1988 death, the home has also brought an ever-increasing quota of noise, traffic and crowds to the quiet, close-knit community.
On Tuesday, Oak Road resident Diane Briganti, a frequent and outspoken Stepping Stones critic, challenged the foundation's trafffic and crowd figures, as well as its legal right to operate as a nonprofit museum.
"This is not what this neighborhood deserves," she said.
Jim Moogan of Kent, president of the Stepping Stones Foundation board, told Bedford officials, “We have no intention of increasing activity there at all.”
He said Stepping Stones, which last year was designated a National Historic Landmark, stands as an indelible piece of Americana.
“We think it will [still] be an important site 200 years from now,” he said.