June 7, 2013

‘Talk to George’

Next Saturday night the Westchester Land Trust will be honoring Bedford’s George Bianco at Maple Grove Farm. The event celebrates the land trust’s 25th year and recognizes Mr. Bianco for his longtime support with the 2013 Preservation Angel Award.

Mr. Bianco is no ordinary businessman. As managing director in the wealth management area of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, he controls over $1 billion in client assets.

Among other connections, we know Mr. Bianco for his work in Bedford with the Westchester Land Trust. He has served as chairman of the Nature Conservancy, co-chairman of the Bedford Open Space Committee, board member of the Bedford Historical Society, founding member of the Westchester Open Space Alliance and was active in creating the Westchester Agricultural District to legalize local farming.

Working with the land trust’s then-chairman Sam Pryor, Mr. Bianco and Mr. Pryor were a formidable team in preserving critical properties in Bedford. Mr. Bianco was also a guiding force in the Westchester County Open Space Alliance, which brought groups throughout the region together with a common goal. It was through Mr. Bianco — and others like him — that the public perception began to change. What were formerly known as “vacant lots” were now recognized as critical ecological properties, providing habitat for animals, a buffer for wetlands and sewage run-off, and scenic beauty for passive recreation. Mr. Bianco was among those who saw the tangible assets around him, and his efforts paid off with land preservation throughout the region.

He looked to other forward-thinking regions in the Northeast for ways to expand conservation measures, including Martha’s Vineyard and the East End of Long Island. Working with land trust director John Feingold and then with Paul Gallay, Mr. Bianco explored ways that Bedford’s citizens could directly participate in land preservation. Many options were considered, and the town eventually put a referendum to voters. Bedford became the first town in Westchester in which citizens voluntarily dedicated funds to protect land, a move soon followed by Pound Ridge.

So far the open space fund has helped preserve properties in all three hamlets. One of those properties was not far from where I live in Katonah. The property, 13 1/2 acres adjacent to New York City reservoir property and home to deer, tortoises and an assortment of wildlife, was originally slated for sale to a developer.

In 2009, after meetings with the land trust’s Paul Gallay and Tom Andersen, we were told to “talk to George.” Mr. Bianco came out to the house and said, “Let’s go.” He wanted to see first-hand what was at stake, and we took a hike through the woods (we actually got lost and ended up in somebody’s backyard.) A few days later, in his usual deadpan voice he said it was unlikely that the land trust would be able to bring this preservation project to fruition.

But he was undaunted. He and members of the land trust helped work with neighbors, who began their own fundraising efforts, eventually coming up with a large portion of the parcel’s cost. It was George who was able to bridge the final funding gap by appealing to the city’s DEP and acting in concert with the town to raise matching funds. It was a multiyear process but it paid off, as have purchases throughout the community facilitated by Mr. Bianco, the land trust and many others committed to open space preservation. “We get public and private partnerships working together to buy the property or development rights,” he said in 2007. “The state and county are all involved and acquire more property than an individual could do alone. Collectively it is logical and easier as a joint project as everyone has leverage. It’s a lot of bang for the buck with a small amount of investment from each party.”

Through his efforts the land trust continues to provide ways for homeowners to beautify and protect Bedford. These are not just options for the rich, but a true democratic solution with tangible benefits for us all.

“My goal is to see a step up in land preservation, the preservation of the parcels of land countywide that define Westchester’s character,” Mr. Bianco said in 2007, when he became the fourth chairman of the land trust. “We can’t risk waiting and losing these critically important open space treasures.”

This week, the land trust’s executive director Candace Schafer invited us to recognize Mr. Bianco in these pages. “It is in tribute to George’s continual efforts and enthusiasm for lasting conservation that we honor him, the 25th anniversary of Westchester Land Trust.”

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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Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

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Bedford Village

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  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

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Bedford Hills

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  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

Mount Kisco

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Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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