By anyone’s measure, Old Church Lane is a picturesque byway, covering a tad over a country mile on an unhurried journey from Kitchawan Road to the Pound Ridge line. Along the way, it brushes slowly past driveways and rural mailboxes serving a score of homes nestled behind low-rise stone walls and abundant foliage.
Old Church Lane is a dirt road. For many residents, that only enhances the neighborhood’s bucolic ambience. But to Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons, who must provide emergency services and school officials with a passable thoroughfare, the road is “a disaster,” costly to maintain and hazardous to drive.
Those clashing perspectives met last week at Lewisboro’s town hall when an outspoken, standing-room-only crowd enlivened a public hearing on plans to give the bucolic artery an asphalt surface, better drainage and, as Parsons put it, “everything else it needs.”
By evening’s end, the Town Board had approved a bond to finance the road’s paving, but that “doesn’t mean we have to use it,” the supervisor noted. The board had agreed last month to the $370,000 facelift and set Feb. 11 for the public hearing.
Three dozen people filled every seat at the Tuesday evening meeting. Most were on hand for a discussion of their beloved dirt road and its paving. In all, eight rose to speak—some more than once—and at least a half-dozen speakers rejected the proposed blacktop with varying degrees of vehemence.
One resident flatly told the board, “Do not pave this road.” Expressing a frequently heard sentiment, he said that the rustic dirt trail was “the reason we moved here, to Old Church Lane, 20 years ago.”
Another speaker, Alex Potter, who lives at 40 Old Church Lane, described the sharp contrast between a Manhattan business meeting and the pastoral calm that welcomed him home in South Salem. It would “be a shame” to pave the road, he said in a phone conversation this week.
Geoffrey Dodge, a resident of 54 Old Church Lane, has been traveling the road, he said, since the early 1960s. He expressed ambivalence about the paving, saying, “I don’t like my car getting dirty all the time.” Nevertheless, and chalking it up to a resistance to change, Dodge concluded, “I kind of like the dirt road.”
He would “be happy if it was paved,” but was “more on the not side,” Dodge said.
It could be weeks before the town makes a final decision on the road’s future.
“The bond takes quite a long time,” Parsons said in an interview late last week. “We may stop it at some stage,” he said of the bonding process. “We may let it go through and only use part of it. Or we may let it go through and use all of it.”
He said it would probably be “at least a couple of weeks before we’ve done the work necessary to go back and discuss it. I need a fair amount of extra information.”
Whatever the conclusion, Parsons understands that some unhappiness will likely persist. “There will be no right decision,” he said. “There will never be a decision which will satisfy all the inhabitants.”
Meanwhile, he surmised, “I may be more enthusiastic about getting this done than the remainder of the board, in part because I’m the one who gets all the complaints.”
The Katonah Lewisboro School District, for instance, owns its bus fleet. But Parsons says the dust kicked up on Old Church fouls the buses’ engines. Similarly, he said, the mud that sloshes up after a downpour also spells trouble for the engines.
In those instances, “the school [district] is not concerned with the safety of buses,” Parsons observed. “It is concerned with the destruction of buses.”
Vista Fire Department members “tell me this is a joke of a road, that it reduces the life span of their vehicles. And they’re scared of losing an ambulance there,” the supervisor said.
“What the fire department hates is the number of people who get stuck in a rut and they [the firefighters] end up having to drag them out. They feel they pay the price for the road not being properly paved.”
Parsons acknowledged that “the people who showed up [for the meeting] were almost all against” the blacktop plan. But, he said, “the people who wrote me letters were almost all in favor paving.” One of the three letter writers, Old Church Lane’s Luis G. Formoso, spoke at the hearing. He said he had heard “all my neighbors and I agree, the road is beautiful.” Nevertheless, Formoso said, he favored paving it.
Residents along the road are closer to being evenly split about its planned blacktopping, Parsons said. In the midst of the hearing, after the estimate of homes along the right-of-way was put at 20 to 24, Councilwoman Jane Crimmins said, “I’m interested in hearing from every household.”