An Open Letter from Tonja & Tor Krautter
For almost 75 years our family has owned Sprainbrook Nursery in the Edgemont section of Greenburgh NY. Our grandfather, Alfred Krautter Sr. bought the property in 1944 when there was nothing there but farmland. Our father, Alfred Krautter Jr. joined the business full time when he was in his 20s. It has been his life’s work and passion ever since. Along with our mother they built the business into a thriving organic nursery serving Edgemont, Greenburgh and Westchester County. Sprainbrook nursery was always considered an institution in Edgemont and our father a respected, caring, and giving member of the community. Now at the age of 82, he is still going strong, working hard every day to keep the business afloat, while we try to sell the property so he and our mother can retire with dignity.
Last week, our father was shocked to receive the ultimate insult from the community that he loves so much. The Greenville Fire Marshal served our father with a lawsuit naming him and holding him responsible for the legal costs of a suit challenging a decision by the Greenburgh Zoning Board. The Board had recently granted several variances to Formation-Shelbourne Senior Living Services to whom we are trying to sell the property.
This all started almost 10 years ago during the recession. Like many nurseries, we ran into grave financial problems. The Town of Greenburgh offered no help or support. We petitioned to have our $100,000.00 dollar tax burden at the time reduced, but we were denied even though as an agricultural nursery we were entitled to it. In 2012 we faced the possibility of going out of business altogether, but our father never gave up. In an attempt to save the nursery as an agricultural entity, he set up weekly meetings with interested parties who loved and wanted to help save Sprainbrook Nursery. Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts and ideas, no viable solutions were found.
Heartbroken, our father reached out to single family home builders. Being located in an R30 area where only 3 to 4 houses could be built on the property, they felt they would have to build large expensive homes to make any profit. In the end, it was decided an expensive house of that size would not sell at our location and the builders passed.
Our property is unique. The Sprainbrook Parkway borders the western side of the property. The aqueduct, a utility corridor owned by Con Edison borders our eastern side with high-tension power lines towering above. The northern property line has a thick 25-foot high bamboo hedge and the southern line is a wooded property. It could be an ideal site for certain businesses. Desperate to find a solution for a sale, we went to the Town of Greenburgh for advice. What could be built on our property that would be good for the community and would attract a buyer who would offer us what the property is worth? We were told it would be a great site for assisted living and that there was a need for it in Edgemont.
The Edgemont school district was opposed to new housing that would increase the population of the schools. However, the high amount of school taxes generated from an assisted living facility could help pay for Edgemont school initiatives while not adding to the school population. All the reasons that made the site undesirable for builders would make it the perfect location for such a facility. Completely tucked away and screened from the rest of Edgemont, it seemed the perfect solution.
The Greenburgh Town Board gave a “green light” to the project and we entered into a sale contract with Formation-Shelbourne, a wonderful company that builds high-end assisted-living communities nationwide. Despite their sadness of having to sell their property and leave their home, our parents were excited at the thought that the property would serve the elderly in the community they have supported and lived in for almost 7 decades.
Unfortunately, we quickly learned that not everyone in Edgemont was interested in serving our elderly residents. As it turns out there is a small, but very vocal group of community members, led by Bob Bernstein and the Edgemont Community Council that has opposed the project from the start even though most Edgemont residents we know support it. Every step of the process has been met with opposition. With every step there was a new challenge, a new legal argument delaying the process for years. Formation-Shelbourne made every effort possible to accommodate all concerns raised, but the opposition kept coming. This has been going on for almost 4 years.
We couldn’t understand what was motivating this relentless opposition until it was revealed that this group was working towards incorporating Edgemont as a village. It’s not surprising that a proposal like this would be seen as an opportunity for opposition. We now find ourselves a political pawn in this group’s agenda with no regard for how it affects our family.
The most recent debate was over a pair of variances that Formation-Shelbourne was seeking from the zoning board. After a year of debate and delaying tactics by the opposition, the board approved the variances allowing the project to finally move forward. That should have been the end of it, but apparently this group has influence on the Greenville Fire Department as well. The Greenville Fire commission had asked for a study before the zoning board decided on the variances.
In part, the study was to examine the effect of Formation-Shelbourne’s proposed facility on the Greenville Fire Department’s response in the case of an emergency at the facility. We are located on Underhill Road, a collector road regularly traveled by commercial traffic including emergency vehicles. For over 50 years we have run our large commercial trucks up and down that road with zero incidents. In addition, we recently documented 4 emergency vehicles including several fire trucks travel up and down the road in one afternoon. Despite these realities, Formation-Shelbourne agreed to address the concerns and fix the road making it easier to navigate in an attempt to resolve the issue. In the end, the board correctly determined the study was not necessary and rather than delay the project even further, rightly and fairly voted to grant the variances.
Unfortunately, this did not end the dispute. In what seems like another attempt to delay the project, the Greenville Fire Department recently decided to challenge the decision in court and has named our father personally in the lawsuit.
This dispute has lasted almost 4 years with one delay after another and no final resolution. This places our parents in an endless holding pattern. Under contract with Shelbourne and incurring costs of nearly $100,000 per year in taxes with no viable income to support their expenses. In part this is due to the fact that there were two suspicious fires on the property within the last few years, which destroyed their ability to stay open as a full service nursery. The circumstances of which only add further insult to the law suit filed against our father.
The first fire was in a large storage building in the back end of the property. When the fire department arrived they found no water pressure in the fire hydrants and the building was lost. The second fire occurred 9 months later. This time it was our beloved red barn that burnt to the ground. The barn housed our garden center and offices. It contained years of business records, family heirlooms, and all the office supplies needed to run a business. We also lost a tremendous amount of garden center inventory as well as some heavy equipment stored in the basement
To the credit of the Greenville Fire Department, they responded very quickly and arrived within minutes (apparently having no trouble navigating Underhill Road) to the nursery. However, when they attached their hoses to the same fire hydrants, there was still no water pressure. No one had fixed the problem since the previous fire 9 months earlier. According to reports from our neighbors, the firemen stood around for 45 minutes before they were able to put any water on the building. What started out as a very manageable fire, ended in total destruction. The building burnt to the ground.
Even more frustrating was the fact that right across the bridge, just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the parkway is the Village of Ardsley. Ardsley had hydrants with enough water to put out the fire. However we were told their volunteer fire department was not allowed to participate because they are not union affiliated. Several of their volunteers worked for our father at the nursery in their youth. They desperately wanted to respond and save the building. Despite the fact that they had plenty of water pressure in their hydrants just across the bridge, they were told not to come.
Even after all that was lost in the fire, the inability or unwillingness of the Town of Greenburgh to fix the hydrants, the failure of the Greenville Fire Department to hold the town accountable and demand the hydrants get fixed, the attempts to block the sale of the property to a company that would make much needed improvements to the area, our father chose not to sue. He simply would not sue members of his own community. Interestingly, Formation-Shelbourne graciously agreed to fix the hydrants as part of their agreement with the zoning board to grant the variances. Clearly they are trying to work with everyone and support the community.
Anyone who knows our father knows the type of man that he is; thoughtful, caring, generous, and kind. He is highly respected and extremely hard working. He is always willing to help others. Together with my mother, they have been people this town can always depend on. Al Krautter is quite possibly the longest living Edgemont resident. He moved to Edgemont as a child in 1944. He went through the Edgemont School system as did we (his children) where we all received an excellent education. Our father went on to study horticulture at Cornell University before returning to Edgemont to take over operations of Sprainbrook Nursery.
Our father loves Edgemont and he has always tried to be a good citizen and do his part to make his community a better place to live in. In the late 1950’s, he dragged many fire hoses as a volunteer fireman with the Greenville Fire Department. His whole life he has supported the Fire Department whenever and however he could. He has always been there to support the Edgemont community as well. He loved to hire students from Edgemont and Ardsley giving young kids their first job. Often times our parents were the only ones willing to give troubled kids a chance. Many have come back to thank them for planting the seeds to becoming good citizens and installing a strong work ethic.
Our parents were always asked to participate in beautification projects and never said no. They were asked to serve on many committees over the years as well. They were asked to represent the green industry on the Westchester County recycling committee and helped develop a great recycling center in Westchester. Our father was also asked to serve on the deer tick committee in Westchester and was part of the draught committee. In fact he wrote the Drought Survival Manual that was distributed throughout New York State in the 1980’s. In the 1970’s, he served as President of the New York State Nurseryman’s Association where he spearheaded beautification projects like providing free trees to villages and towns on Arbor Day. Later in life he found his true calling in the organic gardening movement and wrote his first book, “12 steps to Natural Gardening” and is currently working on his second book, “12 Steps To Reverse Global Warming.” He teaches free organic gardening classes at the nursery and regularly lectures to local garden clubs.
One would think that Edgemont would want to honor and support a valued member of their community. But sadly Edgemont is not what it used to be. Instead of supporting its valued residents and its own elderly population it has become a community focused on status, property value, and precious quality of living with a “not in my backyard” mentality. That is not the community we grew up in and respected for so many years.
We are sickened by the actions of the group(s) of individuals who seem more than willing to throw our family under the bus to advance their own agenda. For the past 73 years, our parents chose to do the opposite. They put their own agendas aside for the needs of their community.
The opposition within Edgemont clearly disagrees. Therefore, what concerns us the most is their continued attempt to attach a negative stigma to our property, the perpetuated lie that it is unsafe for emergency vehicles to navigate its surrounding roads, and the perception that this group will fight any proposed development that the town might support. If these concerns remain a reality, then it would make it extremely difficult for us to sell the property to anyone. This would surely push us into foreclosure and destroy our parents who put their heart and souls into their business and their community. That is not something Edgemont or the Town of Greenburgh should allow to happen. Especially for a community that prides itself on excellence.
Dr. Tonja Krautter