January 11, 2013

The man who charted Bedford’s course

In the future, those who head to 425 Cherry St. may be in for a surprise. A fixture at the planning board, chairman Dr. Donald Coe, is no longer running the meetings. Dr. Coe retired at the end of December after an almost four-decade career, which began in July 1973, when he first joined the board.

Anyone who wants to sense what makes Bedford tick need only attend a Tuesday night planning board meeting. These meetings are the nuts and bolts of town government, in which critical measures are applied to builders, homeowners and developers. The planning board creates the framework of a vision agreed upon by citizens and administration.

It isn’t always easy. The job demands an understanding of land use law, hydrology, geology, traffic patterns and septic systems, not necessarily in that order. In Bedford it is important for planning board members to understand the complexity of historic homes, dirt roads and maintenance of horse trails — a unique combination of skills in an environment that encompasses woods, watershed, suburban development and downtown hamlets only 40 miles from New York City.

As complex as land-use regulations and state environmental quality review studies may appear, it is nothing when compared to the interpersonal aspects of the position. Over the course of the years, Dr. Coe has witnessed tantrums and tears, and almost all of Bedford’s bold-faced names have appeared before the board. Few will ever have the power to pass judgment on captains of industry, sports stars and international ambassadors as Dr. Coe has, or to receive a plate of Martha Stewart’s home-baked cookies prior to a meeting. “We treated it like any other applicant,” Dr. Coe said at the time. And he did. It is to his great credit that in our experience of watching him “on the bench” he has shown impartiality and dedication to the town.

A former director of special education in Westchester and Putnam counties, in 1980 Dr. Coe was on Bedford’s committee to address affordable housing, which led to the formation of the innovative Blue Mountain Housing Corporation that helped make Bedford a leader in meeting housing mandates.

In the past 15 or so years of covering the board, The Record-Review has seen Dr. Coe take on Donald Trump’s Seven Springs and helped shape it from an international golf course destination to a relatively modest luxury home site. He presided over the development of Penwood in a responsible and sustainable way, helping to protect hundreds of acres of land via the promotion of conservation easements and open space alternatives, and by informing property owners of their options. He played a role in saving land for horseback riders and guaranteeing access to the town’s miles of trails.

There are times when he has been put in untenable situations, as the proposed Rippowam High School, which went before the board a decade ago, proved. But overall he has drawn praise from builders, environmentalists and residents as a fair and conscientious board chairman. And he has succeeded, with his reasoned leadership, in keeping the town out of the courts.

Along with presiding over the meetings — some of which stretched five or six hours — Dr. Coe’s input throughout the years has been invaluable in presenting a comprehensive plan to help shape our community, from Mount Holly Road to the Mianus River Gorge.

Dr. Coe leaves his mark on current projects under consideration, including new parking rules at Stepping Stones in Bedford Hills; new homes at Bailey Hall, the largest-scale proposal in Katonah; and countless smaller projects throughout the town.

The town is fortunate in welcoming a new chairwoman, Deirdre Courtney-Batson, with many years experience, to the board. Ms. Courtney-Batson, who also serves on Katonah’s historic district review commission, will continue to work with planning director Jeff Osterman and secretary Gail Amyot on evaluating future developments. Ms. Courtney-Batson debuted in her new role at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’m going to miss our every-other-Tuesday-night meetings and field trips, but my wife and I plan to travel and see our far-flung family more while we are still healthy,” Dr. Coe said at last month’s town board meeting, at which the board announced his retirement.

We wish Dr. Coe a long and happy retirement, and we welcome Ms. Courtney-Batson into her new role.

The board’s next session is a joint meeting with the town board on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m., to discuss Stepping Stones. The planning board’s regular meeting will take place that night at 8 p.m. Meetings are held at 425 Cherry St.; 666-4434.

Smart people wanted

Along with the planning board, the town is looking to fill vacancies on additional boards and commissions. Town clerk Lisbeth “Boo” Fumagalli tells us that those interested may apply for a position on the Bedford Board of Ethics, the Katonah District Review Commission or the Tree Advisory Board. Ms. Fumagalli can be contacted at 666-4534.

Conservation board chairman Simon Skolnik recently notified us that the Bedford Conservation Board also has an opening. Board meetings for 2013 are scheduled the second Thursday of each month, at 7:30 p.m., in the second-floor meeting room at 425 Cherry St. There is no August meeting. For more information on joining the conservation board, call the planning department at 666-4434 or visit the town’s website at www.bedfordny.gov.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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