The Stepping Stones Foundation, which is seeking a special-use permit to build a parking lot while neighbors of the Katonah site press for resolution of concerns about traffic and noise, will rework the draft of a protocol governing its activities after a page-by-page review with the Bedford Planning Board Tuesday night.
Issues aired during the review, which consumed more than half of the 3.5-hour board meeting, included the number and size of vehicles, number of trips, number of people admitted to the Oak Road site, deliveries, times for tours, the best way to limit the impact of events on the residential neighborhood (especially those concentrated on weekends in warm-weather months) and the possibility that some activities may have outgrown the 8-acre property.
Stepping Stones is the historic home of Bill and Lois Wilson, respective co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Al-Anon Family Groups. It is on the state and national registers of historic places and since 1990 has been operated by the Stepping Stones Foundation. The federal government is considering designation of the site as a National Historic Landmark.
The site is a mecca for the world’s recovering alcoholics and attracts several hundred people to its annual picnic, its largest event. Annual visitors total 3,000 since Stepping Stones was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, according to an article posted Feb. 17 on www.lohud.com.
The Town Board has asked the Planning Board to help the foundation develop a protocol that will govern the operation of the site and address the concerns of neighbors. The Town Board ultimately will approve or reject the protocol and the permit for the landscaped 14-space parking area.
While differences remained at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, there appeared to be general agreement with a suggestion by board Vice Chair Deirdre Courtney-Batson that the protocol, once adopted, be reviewed after one year to determine how well it is working.
Meanwhile, traffic consultant John Collins will be asked to update his data based on the revised protocol, with particular emphasis on the numbers associated with major events. Several board members cited traffic as a key environmental concern during the review process required by the state Environmental Quality Review Act.
Foundation Executive Director Annah Perch and attorney Whitney Singleton, representing Stepping Stones during the review, said the site does not attract a “tremendous amount” of traffic except on certain occasions. In the course of a year it involves fewer car trips than a single-family home, they said. Shuttle buses carry passengers from off-site parking areas for large events.
Courtney-Batson said, “It is the perception of neighbors that activity has expanded” in recent years.
Diane S. Briganti, a 28-year resident of Oak Road directly across from Stepping Stones, who has called for tighter limits on the number of vehicles and visitors, suggested that some activities had grown too large for the neighborhood and should be held off-site.
In response to questions about noise levels and compliance with fire codes, board Chair Donald J. Coe said that a public address system must comply with town noise regulations and that fire officials will be asked to review safety and occupancy provisions. Perch noted that fire officials conduct periodic walk-throughs.
Summarizing the conflicting perspectives, board member John P. Sullivan said, “God bless your work but the site is much more used, with a museum-like atmosphere in a neighborhood that can’t sustain it.”