The fate of the Cudner-Hyatt House, built in 1734 hangs in the balance. The historic building, originally a home and later a museum, has been managed by the Scarsdale Historical Society since they were granted a variance to operate a museum there in 1974. Now the Board of the Historical Society has filed an application to the Scarsdale Zoning Board of Appeals to lift the variance and free the property, which includes the Quaker Meeting House for other uses. The Board claims that times have changed, interest in the activities of the museum have diminished and it has become onerous to pay for the upkeep of the property.
Having examined and exhausted many options to maintain the Cudner-Hyatt House, the Board is now asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to lift the variance so that they have flexibility in searching for a solution.
However, the Scarsdale Arts Council, lead by former Mayor Ed Morgan fears that lifting the variance will jeopardize the preservation of this ”endangered landmark.” He believes that once the variance is lifted and the house can again be used as a residence, modifications will need to be made to accommodate 21st century living and the integrity of the house could be compromised.
The matter was heard before the Scarsdale Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday night March 14 and held it over to the April 11, where it is now on the agenda.
However, in the interim, Morgan has written letters to the NYS Attorney General’s Office and the State Department of Education torequest that they intervene. The Council is requesting intervention and a review to help find the best use for the building.
In the letter, Morgan makes clear that the Council is not filing a complaint against the Board of the Society. He says, (we) “are purposefully filing instead this request for your office's intervention and review, because some would see a complaint as something directed against the officers and board members of the Society. That is not our purpose, and we hope that it will not be yours either.”
In the letter to the Attorney General, the Council argues that:
--“This situation arose following the retirement of a prior management which until as recently as ten years ago had operated the museum very successfully from both a financial standpoint and as a vibrant part of the community in and around Scarsdale.”
--This action by the Society to abandon its long-standing principal museum mission is, … premature, given the major nature of the change in mission focus and the implications.
--“Dwindling attendance” does not prove that there no longer is any place for historically oriented museums such as the Cudner-Hyatt Museum.
--“Under the structure of both federal and state laws for regulation for publicly supported charities and private foundations, it is contemplated that there will be public involvement before major and detrimental changes are made in operations of publicly supported charities. The Society's recent actions are in this category and, despite protestations to the contrary, mark Cudner-Hyatt as an endangered landmark. There has been no visible sign of meaningful public involvement, much less the high profile attention which seems needed.”
--The Scarsdale Village Board commissioned preparation of a Historic Resources Survey … (that) lists 13 properties, including Cudner-Hyatt, previously evaluated and considered likely landmarks under any new historic preservation law which may emerge.
--“Because of those recent actions, now is the best time for your office and the community to review the entire situation, while reasonable time can be provided before any wrecking ball appears, to see what the best alternatives may be.”
--“Accordingly, no action should be taken at this time to make the Society's museum role illegal, as the Society's proposed variance termination would accomplish, until your office and the community at large have had a reasonable opportunity to explore all of the facts together with the alternatives emerging during the ensuing dialogue.”
Morgan will appeal to the Trustees to remove this item from the April 11 agenda of the Zoning Board of Appeals to give the Attorney General six to eight months to study it and to give himself time to set up a community-wide public forum. He believes that through discussion, the community will find solutions to save the house.
Adam Krajchir, President of the Scarsdale Historical Society contends that the issue is one of relevance. He was a volunteer at the Historical Society for ten years and is also a major contributor. He ran their fall foliage race and cleaned out the basement of the house when it flooded. According to Krajchir, the community no longer supports a museum or the kinds of program that were run in the 1980’s. As a management consultant, he lead the Board through a strategic planning process to help them embrace the realities of the present and the future. He says that the Board has already explored a multitude of options including leasing the building to someone else, giving it away and even moving it elsewhere. With the variance in place, it is difficult to have serious discussions with potential partners or white knights. He finds it offensive that Morgan is stepping in at this late date to replicate the fact-finding process that the Board has already completed.
According to Krajchir, changing the zoning status of the property does not mean that it will be demolished. He said, “We want to lift the variance, not let the house get hit by a wrecking ball.” And then, referring to his critics, he added, “No one has actually come forward and said, how can I help you? “