What is the history of the Old Stone Church? Aimee La Farge-Heins commissioned the construction of the St. George Chapel in memory of her husband George Lewis Heins and her brother John La Farge. It was designed in French Norman Style architecture by the firm of Hewitt & Bottomley and was completed in May 1912. Shortly thereafter, she donated the Chapel to the Archdiocese of New York.
In 1963, the chapel was renamed Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton in honor of the first American beatified by the Vatican. In September 1975, Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized and the chapel was renamed Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. As the congregation grew, the parish moved to its present location in Shrub Oak.
The Archdiocese of New York de-sanctified the church and on March 21st, 1984 sold the building to Mr. & Mrs. Jack Nathan of New York City. The building sat idle for roughly 20 years before it was purchased by Mr. Michael Palmietto in August 2000. Mr. Palmietto planned to open a restaurant at the location. His plan was encouraged and supported by the Yorktown Town Board. One current board member, Mr. Nicholas Bianco, appeared on channel 12 news endorsing the plan. After construction started, some board members withdrew their support for reasons stated in Mr. Mike Palmietto Affidavit.
Mr. Palmietto sold the building to Mr. Thomas DeChiaro of Mahopac, NY in August 2005 with the hopes that Mr. DeChiaro would be successful in opening an upscale winery. Mr. Palmietto passed away on January 16, 2009 without seeing his desire to revitalize the building come to fruition.
Is the Old Stone Church a landmark? No. Shortly after taking ownership, Mr. DeChiaro was approached by the Town Board and the Landmark Commission regarding landmark status. Mr. DeChiaro had respectfully requested that the Town refrain from any action until he had time to review the landmark laws. Contrary to his request, the Town immediately started landmark proceedings. This process prevented Mr. DeChiaro from obtaining building permits for over a year.
Mr. DeChiaro wanted to protect the building’s historical elements by suggesting that the Town landmark the slate roof, exterior stonework and original mosaic floor tiles. He reasoned that recently added items such as flooring and windows held no historical significance. The Town Board rejected Mr. DeChiaro’s request sighting the recently enacted (2004) landmark law which was approved by the Yorktown Town Board. This law strips the property owner of all his/her rights as it relates to landmark status. This means the Town Board has sole power to designate landmark status to a building without the owner’s consent.
Are there parking issues? No. The current property along with adjacent land currently leased from New York State provide for adequate parking. Valet parking is available off site and land directly east of the building can be leased or purchased from the Town for additional parking. In 1993, a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars were used by the Town to condemn and acquire this land in order to prevent the owner, Mr. Salvatore Ardizzone, from developing on his private property. As part of a resolution, the Town Board agreed to lease or sell the property, for commercial use, to offset the cost of the settlement. This land is currently vacant, filled with debris and not generating tax revenue for the town. This land can be put to good use, kept green and cleaned at the owner’s expense.
A recent police report concerning a fund raiser for the Katonah Museum on May 28th, 2009 sited: "the event housed 100 guests and that there were no parking violations utilizing the current parking spaces."
Are the wetlands being impacted? No. Wetlands do exist in the area and they must be protected. Violations for dumping in the wooded wetlands area between the building and the strip mall were issued by the Town. These violations are unfounded as the items in the wetlands (a screen door with years of growth around it and roadside garbage blowing in from Rt. 6 and the strip mall) have existed for years before Mr. DeChiaro obtained the building. Mr. DeChiaro is due in court in September, 2009 for these violation in Somers Town Court as two judges from Yorktown removed themselves from the case. (see: Howard Orneck Affidavit and Chris Sciarra Affidavit)
Were the proper permits for a zone change filed? Mr. DeChiaro was specifically told by several Town Board members that they would not approve a commercial zone change for the building unless he widened Rt. 6. Mr. DeChiaro saw this as discriminatory as no other businesses on Rt. 6 were required to widen this State owned road which is out of Yorktown’s jurisdiction. (See Link & Scroll down to St. George Winery: Meeting Minutes Feb. 26 2008)
A Local zone change is not required to operate as a winery. New York State suggested that Mr. DeChiaro seek protection from the Department of Agriculture by applying to the County for inclusion into the State’s Agriculture District. The application was ignored by Westchester County due to political pressure from the Town Board. Westchester County has never denied or ignored an application recommended by the Farmland Protection Board. This was the main issue stated in the 30 million dollar lawsuit which was recently dismissed by Magistrate Smith on May 8th, 2009.
Although Mr. DeChiaro believes that his current zoning allows for his winery to operate, an application for a local transitional zone change was submitted to the town on Sept 4th 2009.
What is the status of the winery’s addition into the agricultural district? An application for 2009 was filed with the County. By law, their response was due by May 31st, 2009. This date has expired without any action by the County for the third time. The Department of Agriculture suggested that Mr. DeChiaro file an article 78 against the County. This will be filed shortly.
What is an article 78? In the State of New York it is one of the legal grounds under which a government official’s official action may be challenged in the state court of law under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules.
Why was the lawsuit dismissed? The lawsuit sited civil rights & other violations by the Town and County concerning the application for inclusion into the State’s Agricultural District. The lawsuit was dismissed based on the Town’s assertion that the owner did not file an application for a local zone change. Judge Smith failed to address most of the claims stated in the lawsuit. An appeal is pending.
Why might the Town Board obstruct a path to open? Mr. Nicolas Bianco & Mr. Louis Campisi spearheaded a proposal to acquire the building and suggested turning it into a visitor center, nature center, or museum, etc. They were working with two activists, Mr. & Mrs. John Gordon of Mohegan Lake. Mr. & Mrs. Gordon want Mr. DeChiaro to donate the building to the town.
Do you have a liquor license? A Federal winery license has been obtained. The State license has been denied because the Town Board instructed the building inspector to send a letter to the State’s Liquor Authority objecting to the winery.
How were you able to open in the past? Temporary day licenses were obtained from the State Liquor Authority. Since then, the Town Board has contacted the State Liquor Authority thus blocking the issuance of additional licenses.
Yorktown residents can register and vote in the upcoming primary election on September 15th, 2009 and in the general election on November 3rd, 2009. Please encourage all your family and friends to do the same.
Yorktown needs Board members that are pro-business, pro-job creation and responsive to the will of the people they represent.