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Latimer Signs Bond Act for Merestead Putting Restoration Work in Motion

estoration work will begin at the Westchester County-owned Merestead estate after County Executive George Latimer signed a $1.5 million bond act last Wednesday that had been unanimously approved by the Board of Legislators in late April.

Last week’s signing will first allow for the restoration of the farmhouse at the 130-acre property on Byram Lake Road in Bedford. The action came a couple of weeks after the county received a favorable decision from a state Supreme Court justice following a four-year legal battle to lift many of the restrictions included in the deed. The property’s last owner, Margaret Sloane Patterson, died in 2000 and bequeathed Merestead to Westchester County.

The $1.5 million for the farmhouse work includes $400,000 in previously appropriated bonds for work at Merestead.

Latimer said making sure that the estate is operated as a county park for the benefit of the public and closely aligned with the wishes of the Patterson family is crucial. The deed had restricted the county to use the land as parkland and as a museum and prohibited commercial uses.

“These are commitments that we make not as a government but as a society,” Latimer said. “These 50-plus parks that we have are made so people can enjoy them, not so they can stand as a living testimony for government’s inability to act.”

Patterson’s father, William Sloane, was the president of W&J Furniture in the early 20th century. The family lived on the property.

County Legislator Erika Pierce (D-Katonah), whose district includes Merestead, said plans for future uses will need to be ironed out by the county. It will likely explore different types of educational, cultural or conservation organizations to see what could work best in the farmhouse, carriage house and the 28-room Georgian Revival mansion that was built in 1906.

Pierce said she expects the farmhouse to be the first fully-functioning building once renovations are completed. The site could also host student groups, art shows, small music ensembles and walking on the property’s trails.

“We’ve had some of the conversations before, but without the deed restrictions being sorted, we could never actually move those conversations forward beyond the lets-keep-talking-about-this stage,” said Pierce, who worked with her predecessor, former legislator Kitley Covil, who initially spearheaded the request to ease the restrictions. “So now, now we’re there, which is just great.”

Pierce also referenced a statement from Patterson’s daughter, Nancy Sevcenko, who endorsed the county moving forward with restoration and new uses for the site.

“The plans perfectly align with my mother’s vision for Merestead yet adapts it to the modern era, as I know she would have wanted,” Sevcenko said in her statement.

“It is my hope that new ideas and projects for Merestead – agricultural, cultural and historical – will arrive eagerly tumbling over themselves, and that the residents of Westchester County and points beyond will find the place as beautiful and soul-nourishing as it was for my mother,” she added.

County Attorney John Nonna said that there is just over $5.2 million remaining in the trust fund. As a result of the decision last month from state Supreme Court Justice David Everett, the county can use $3.5 million of that money on projects at Merestead, although it would have to use county money as a match, he said.

The state Attorney General’s office, which will continue to provide oversight to make sure terms are being followed, wanted the county to continue maintaining a trust fund with the remaining $1.7 million, Nonna said. The county can withdraw up to 5 percent a year for uses at the property.

Everett’s decision also provides the county with greater control over the land and creates a Collections Management Policy, providing a structured approach to managing valuable assets such as artwork and other items at the site.

Latimer said to have Merestead reach its potential will take additional resources and political will to complete. He said the county has already put in about $20 million since it inherited the land.

“Here at Merestead, to get this place to what it can be, will take more barriers to be overcome, and that will be overcome in a dialogue of partnership between the town and the neighboring village and the people in these communities, those active in the conservancy, those who are physical neighbors of the property, all of these things we intend to work through, Latimer said.

The May 8 press conference and signing at Merestead was attended by various local officials and historical and preservationist enthusiasts.