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Hearing Set for Home Demolition Appeal

The town board will hear the appeal on May 15.

The town board will be asked to decide next month between the rights of private-property owners and the public’s power to ensure historic preservation.

Asked to arbitrate a dispute between a Bedford Hills couple and the town’s building-preservation authorities the board, at its Tuesday night meeting, set the hearing date for May 15.

The couple—Carlos Benaim, a world-renowned perfumer, and his wife, Dr. Darel M. Benaim, a psychologist and psychoanalyst—want to tear down a sprawling, almost century-old Tudor revival-style building they own in Katonah.

Bedford’s Historic Building Preservation Commission, citing the building’s distinctive architecture and potential designation as an historic structure, barred the wrecking ball.

Members of the historic preservation commission were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday. Patch will continue to update this story in the weeks leading up to the town's public hearing on the matter.

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In appealing for town board intervention, the couple’s attorney, Alfred B. DelBello of White Plains, said the Benaims faced “indisputable financial hardship” if the denial was permitted to stand. The couple reportedly paid $3.6 million for the 16-acre tract at 44 Holly Branch Road. DelBello has made it clear the Benaims will sue if the board does not overturn the preservation commission’s ruling. In a letter to the town, he warned that Bedford’s “general welfare” has been “put in substantial jeopardy by the potential for protracted litigation.”

DelBello, who was county executive from 1974 to 1982 and later lieutenant governor under Mario Cuomo, was especially critical of the Belfry’s undisclosed listing as a site of potential historic interest. He noted the existence of a "secret list"—called the Survey of Historic Buildings—that identifies potentially protected historic properties. “The town’s decision not to publish the Survey because it allegedly remains a ‘work in progress’ since its inception in 2003 violates the Benaims’ due process rights,” DelBello said.

In an interview with Patch, DelBello said the key piece was that the homeowners of the 500 homes included on the list were never notified and therefore did not have the opportunity to contest their home's inclusion.

Patch obtained a copy of the survey, titled "Historic Property Files," through a Freedom of Information Act request filed and fulfilled by the town clerk on April 18. The list, dated Aug. 16, 2010, includes homes identified by street address and marked to indicate the status of the research completed on the property.

For example, some are marked "research not yet done," and others are marked with an asterisk indicating a report was completed. The majority of homes on the list—including 44 Holly Branch Road, The Belfry—are apparently not yet fully researched. The list is posted with this story.

The Belfry was built in 1913. Under the town code, buildings outside an established historic district that were constructed after 1900 can be declared “historical” and placed on the survey. While the code defines “historic,” DelBello pointed out, it never does so for “historical.” That “illogical circularity” in Bedford’s historic-buildings law, he insisted, rendered it unconstitutionally vague.

The town board is expected to visit the property before its May 1 board meeting then hear the Benaims’ appeal before the May 15 meeting.

Catherine Downs April 18, 2012 at 09:34 PM
The real issue here is that a potential buyer must be informed BEFORE signing contracts. It's either a preserved building or it's not. There can be no 'secret list'. The lawyers and/ or realtor acting for the buyer has a duty to fully research this before proceeding to a sale. If the buyer proceeds with full disclosure then they must abide by the ruling, if not then you've opened a real can of worms!
pauline schneider February 11, 2013 at 03:21 PM
WHO in their right mind would want to demolish this incredible building?
Dan February 11, 2013 at 04:43 PM
The people that paid for it! And they were never told about a "secret list" and the Town Planner that "doesn't recall" telling the property owner that it would be ok for demo. Don't worry taxpayers of Bedford, it's just another lawsuit against the Town, and I've heard there is already serveral lawsuits against the Town this year so far.

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