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Demolition Set for Ex-Swiss Benevolent Home

Oct. 30 deadline for tearing down buildings on Mount Kisco property.

The large white colonial building at the top of Captain Merritt's Hill must be demolished by Oct. 30.

The building, which was once owned owned by the Swiss Benevolent Society and then by the Town & Country senior center, has to be torn down as part of an agreement between Mount Kisco and Robert Mishkin, the former proprieter of Town & Country.

"[It's] a long time coming," said Village Attorney Whitney Singleton.

The Village Board of Trustees approved the agreement at its Aug. 13 meeting but at the time the terms, including a deadline, were being reviewed by Singleton and not set in stone. It was signed on Aug. 27, part of a change to a 2005 legal settlement between the two sides.

Demolition of the dilapidated building, located at 53 Mountain Ave., will be done in phases and a permit for it has been issued, village officials explained. Building Inspector Austin Cassidy confirmed that a contractor will move equipment to the site by Monday and accessory buildings will be demolished soon after. Tearing down the colonial structure will take longer because asbestos abatement has to be done.

"The main building cannot be disturbed until abatement is completed, inspected and signed off by NYS [New York State]," he wrote in an email. "Take down will follow shortly thereafter, circa the week of 9/24.

The demolition work is the next major chapter for a site whose history is convoluted. 

The Swiss Benevolent Society, according to its online history, established its presence in the neighborhood in 1923 when it obtained seven acres. Its property, which included a nursing home,  

The society left in the early 1990s and Mishkin acquired roughly four of the society's acres that faced Mountain Avenue, including the colonial building. He opened Town & Country in 1994, which became an assisted living facility for senior citizens. It has been defunct for the past 6-7 years, Singleton said.

Mishkin could not be reached for comment. However,  for the agreement when interviewed in August for comment on its initial form.

Over the years, however, litigation has plagued the property. The village spent millions to purchase the roughly 50 acres that the society kept after leaving, in order to settle a lawsuit that the society brought, with a payment of roughly $3.6 million, according to current and former officials, and media reports. The society claimed that the property in the 1980s was rezoned in a way that hampered economic use of it, which prompted the legal action.

Mishkin and the village got into a protracted legal battle, too. In the late 1990s, he proposed expanding Town & Country, which had room for 44 senior citizens, by adding capacity for 46 more, a plan that drew concern from Captain Merritt's Hill residents. The Planning Board failed to approve the proposal after an environmental review was undertaken, and Mishkin sued the village in 2002, claiming that its zoning was discriminatory towards the disabled and that Mount Kisco was hostile towards having senior live locally. In October of that year, Mishkin was denied a variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which was necessary for the expansion.

The suit came to a halt nearly four years later, when in December 2005, the village board approved a settlement. It called for Mishkin to purchase almost 18 acres of the society's former space - by then it was village owned - for several million dollars, land that faces towards Kisco Avenue. Only five acres would be disturbed, however. In exchange, the village would take over the Mountain Avenue property, once the former owner agreed to demolish any buildings on site. The village intends to make much of the former society property that it will own into open space.

While the settlement is nearly seven years old, other items in the process and delay have meant that the tear down provision is only being acted upon now. Mishkin presented a new proposal for the Kisco Avenue-facing property, to the Planning Board in 2006. It calls for building 129 senior housing units in a 291,000-square-foot building of about three stories, called The Planning Board conducted an environmental review, which it finished in 2009. The Village Board then voted to rezone the site that year the make such development legal.

The settlement has been amended five times: in 2007, 2008, 2009 and twice in 2012.

The next step for senior housing proposal involves going back to the Planning Board with a site plan application, which Mishkin has not done. However, the August amendment to the settlement requires that it be done within 60 days of the deal being signed. This results in an Oct. 27 deadline. The agreement expects that Mishkin's proposal could be downsized.

A copy of the Aug. 27 amendment to the settlement is attached to this story as a PDF file.

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