About Face — Sleepy Hollow Officials Act to Rescind Cemetery Zoning

With no pun intended, digging into the latest issue between Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the newly elected slate of "transparent, no backroom dealing nor special interest leaning" Mayor and Board of Trustees within the Village of the same name, is worth writing about.


Village government up and down the Hudson, and east and west of it as well, has never been nor will it ever be known for rapid decision making. At best local government trots along. At worst it plods. Not so when one considers the relatively overnight galloping issue of rescinding zoning on a parcel of Rockefeller property to be used for cemetery purposes. The 160-year old Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (1849) is in contract to purchase that property.

So what’s all the commotion about? Do we hear Shakespeare, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much," or are we being shown "smoke and mirrors"? It may be a combination of the two. Before the drama begins let us set the stage.

The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery had over the years been in dialogue with the Rockefeller family about the possibility of purchasing adjacent land for needed expansion. Nothing immediately came from those conversations until recently, when the Estate of Laurance S. Rockefeller contacted the Cemetery about selling 12.5 acres of land that bordered the northernmost boundary of the Cemetery (along Route 9). The land as it stood was zoned for residential use and a rezoning to cemetery (CEM) use was necessary for the purchase of the property. Attorneys representing the Rockefeller Estate petitioned Sleepy Hollow’s Board for the rezoning. The Board followed SEQRA guidelines and after public hearings it passed resolution 08/171/08 on August 12, 2008 which rezoned the 12.5 acres for CEM use. Current Trustees Schroedel and Wompa along with (then Trustee and current Mayor) Wray voted "yes" last year, while Caposella (who works for the Rockefeller Greenrock Association) abstained. The vote was 6-0-1 in favor of the rezoning.

Enter stage left. Far left. Sleepy Hollow’s newly elected officials, (some with four months’ experience) and counsel, have written up a new resolution that will show (depending on how well one sees out of both eyes) that the existing zoning, permitting the use of the Rockefeller land for cemetery purposes, is not in compliance.

Now lift the curtain and let the play begin. To follow is a new resolution (which may have already passed) rescinding the previous one of 2008. It is presented as drafted with editorial comments in red between its paragraphs. In essence we will let the audience applaud or throw tomatoes. One final note. This resolution never appeared on the Village’s July 14 agenda but was introduced at the meeting (so much for transparency) much to everyone’s surprise.

Sleepy Hollow Resolution to Reverse Zoning on Rockefeller Property

Whereas, upon the petition of the Estate of Laurance Rockefeller, on August 22, 2008 the Board of Trustees voted to amend the zoning code of the Village of Sleepy Hollow to change the zoning from R-1 to CEM (cemetery) on a parcel of property owned by the Estate of Laurance Rockefeller located along Route 9, across from Sleepy Hollow Manor; and

The 12.5 acres of property owned by the Laurance S. Rockefeller estate includes a 3 acre buffer zone around their family cemetery. These 3-acres can be purchased back by the Rockefeller estate within a 25-year period, according to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery officials.

Whereas, with all actions taken by the Board of Trustees regarding amendments to the Village zoning codes and local laws, certain procedures and protocol must be adhered to in order to ensure fairness and due process for all residents of the Village of Sleepy Hollow, as well as all other interested parties to the actions; and

According to Village officials each step needed for rezoning consideration was followed under SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) including the findings of a "negative declaration" which translates to "no adverse environmental effect." In addition, public hearings were held and broadcast on local television, notices in local newspapers appeared and all actions concerning the rezoning petition were on file at Village Hall and available to the public. Notification in the form of letters to property owners (Sleepy Hollow Manor) within 250 feet of the property were not mandated by law in this case. Therefore no letters were sent out by the Village.

Whereas, any action taken with regard to said amendments to the Village zoning codes and local laws must be referred to and approved by the Department of Planning, Westchester County; and

Saccardi & Schiff was the planning consultant to Sleepy Hollow at the time, and noted land use and environmental attorney Joel Sachs was counsel to the Village. It was up to the planning consultant to contact the Department of Planning for Westchester County about the rezoning resolution. For whatever reason this did not happen. Again, according to Village officials this administrative issue can be remedied by sending the necessary paperwork to the County. Conversations with the County support the fact that this technicality is easily remedied.

Whereas, regarding the action taken on August 22, 2008 herein, the Westchester County Board of Legislators must also approve the action because the subject property is intended to be used as a cemetery; and

Correct. Yet the paperwork can still be filed.

Whereas, neither the Westchester County Department of Planning and the Westchester County Board of Legislators has approved said action of the Board of Trustees at the present time; and

Correct. Yet the paperwork can still be filed.

Whereas, a transcript of said action amending the Village Local Laws was never filed with the Secretary of State, State of New York; and

Correct. Yet the paperwork can still be filed.

Whereas, the Board of Trustees has requested counsel to review the file and the proceedings held herein regarding said action, seeking a determination whether the action taken by the Board of Trustees on August 22, 2008 was legal and in substantial compliance with the relevant laws, rules and regulations of all State, County and Village codes governing said action; and

It is unclear why the Board of Trustees requested the Village Attorney to review the file and proceedings of the rezoning. One plausible explanation is that the Sleepy Hollow Manor Association has taken exception to any expansion of the Cemetery along Route 9 opposite the two entrances to Sleepy Hollow Manor. This however could hardly be construed as "ensuring fairness and due process for all residents of the Village," as written in the new resolution.

Whereas, it appears the action of the Board of Trustees was not in the stated compliance;

The word "appears" is a good description of what has transpired. It appears that the Village of Sleepy Hollow followed the petition to amend the zoning code to the letter of the law. It appears that their planning consultant did not complete the process by filing with the County of Westchester and the State of New York. It appears that this can easily be remedied by filing the necessary documents now. It appears that the current Village government may hang their hats (and votes) on this technicality. It appears that historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery may be curtailed in its operations. It appears that reversing last year’s rezoning may prompt law suits against the Village. It appears that special interests and hidden agendas are alive and well after the election season. It appears that they may have been hiding beneath the campaign platform.

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved, the Board of Trustees, pursuant to parliamentary procedure as outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order which have been so adopted by this Board, does hereby rescind Resolution Number ____, dated August 22, 2008.

According to Wikipedia in 1876 (younger than the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery) U.S. Army Major Henry Martyn Robert first published a book entitled "Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies" with the abbreviated title of "Robert’s Rules of Order." "The book is designed for use in ordinary societies rather than legislative assemblies" (which Sleepy Hollow government is). The book can at best be cited as "persuasive."

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