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Ex-Swiss Benevolent Home Demolished

Large white colonial that once served as nursing home in Mount Kisco has been torn down.

The large, white colonial building at the top of Mount Kisco's Captain Merritt's Hill neighborhood is no more.

The structure, once the property of the Swiss Benevolent Society and then the Town and Country senior center, was demolished earlier this month, Village Attorney Whitney Singleton confirmed. Not a trace is visible from the site's former entrance on Mountain Avenue, with a bare ridgeline being the only large sight on the landscape.

Demolition of the building was completed some time last week, according to Singleton, while the developer in charge of it got state clearance approximately the week before. The clearance was needed because the building needed to go through asbesto removal, Singleton explained.

“We asked that this be accomplished, obviously because of the attractive nuisance that the property was becoming because of its disrepair," said Mayor Michael Cindrich.

The demise of the structure, at 53 Mountain Ave., is the latest chapter in a decades-long saga for the property.

The site, which is about four acres, was once owned by the Swiss Benevolent Society, which established a presence in the area during the 1920s, according to its website, with its proeprty growing beyond 50 acres. The society relinquished control of the Mountain Avenue portion in the early 1990s, while the building was used as a nursing home. The property was taken over by developer Robert Mishkin, who turned it into Town and Country, a senior living center. The rest of the Swiss site, according to current and former village officials, was then bought by the village through borrowed funds in order to settle a zoning dispute lawsuit between the village and the society.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mishkin unsuccessfully sought to expand the property to allow for 46 more people, in addition to the 44 who were already allowed. People in the village, according the Captain Merrit's Hill neighborhood and officials, balked at the idea, with the Planning Board not giving approval and with the Zoning Board of Appeals giving a denial for a variance. Mishkin took the village to court in 2002, arguing that the Planning Board's lack of approval was connected to discriminatory intent towards seniors.

The protracted legal battle halted with a December 2005 settlement between the two sides. Under the settlement, the village was to acquire the Mountain Avenue property. In turn, Mishkin would purchase roughly 18 acres of the other former Swiss Benevolent land, which is situated on the one of the highest hills in the village and slopes toward Kisco Avenue. Both sides have agreed that the Mountain Avenue site would be cleared of the old building, plus ancillary structures.

With the deal becoming reality, Mishkin in 2006 proposed Westchester Residence & Club, a 129-unit, 3.5-story senior living structure that would be on his new land. It would only have entrance and exit passage to Kisco Avenue, and not through Captain Merritt's.

The Planning Board conducted an environmental reivew, which it finished in the spring of 2009. Around that time, the Village Board of Trustees voted to rezone the property for the club. However, with the weak economy, Mishkin put the project on hold, where it would remain until this year, when he came back to the village with new business partners: Hearth Management and The Fortus Group. The project, renamed The Hearth at Mount Kisco, will follow a similar format for senior citizens and keep the same housing unit count but will entail a greatly reduced building size, with part of it downgraded to roughly 1.5 stories. The new proposal, which was submitted to the village last month, is currently pending before the Planning Board.

The Hearth/Fortus leadership, in conjunction with its new push for the housing plan, agreed to a new timetable with the village last summer and has assumed the lead role in a new version of the land swap deal. Initially, an Oct. 30 demolition deadline had been set, but the tear down was delayed by the asbesto removal process. The Village Board of Trustees approved an extension deadline of Dec. 7, but the demolition took place several weeks prior.

Mishkin declined to comment when asked about the demolition, referring questions to the new lead partner. Attempts to contact other officials were unsucessful.

Going forward, what happens to the Mountain Avenue site is likely to be a mixed future. Singleton explained that the ridgeline, plus most of the former Swiss Benevolent site, will be open space. However, the village has considered selling off the land closest to Mountain Avenue to a developer, who, under the zoning, could build new single-family homes. There is no specific deal for a sale at this point, Singleton said.

Cindrich said that the village will not take possession of the property until after finalization of development of The Hearth senior housing proposal. After that point, when the village takes over the site, the future of it will become a topic.

Beach Lover November 20, 2012 at 04:52 PM
What a shame to demolish such a beautiful home. I remember as a child going to summer parties that the Swiss society held there, Christmas caroling with my brownie troop & visiting with the residents. Having said that, I think the town should not sell the land to a developed & leave it as open space as originally planned. Do we really need more high end homes?? We are crowded enough as it. Plant some trees, put in a bench & leave it be.
Tom Auchterlonie (Editor) November 20, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I got comment from Mayor Michael Cindrich (the story has been updated to include it). He mentioned that the village will not take over the site until after The Hearth senior housing proposal goes through its process (the Planning Board is currently reviewing it). Its future will be discussed once that happens. With regards to the former building itself, Cindrich described it as being in disrepair.

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