One Nonprofit Wants to Hound Another Off Its Land

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May 5, 2011; Source: Wall Street Journal | There's a battle going on in the suburbs north of New York City involving two nonprofits that has some residents – to quote the Wall Street Journal – "howling at each other." At issue is whether to permit plans to set aside and fence off an "eight-acre sliver of nearly 400 acres of protected woodlands" for a Wolf Conservation Center.

The center is being opposed by the Westchester Land Trust, despite the fact it has the blessings of the town of Lewisboro, where the property for the wolf center is located. The nonprofit land trust, which was created to spare the protected woodlands from development, says that fencing off the acreage for the wolf center would violate an agreement arranged with Lewisboro in 2005.

To stop the center, it filed a lawsuit last September. Now all the parties to the dispute – the land trust on one side and the town and wolf center on the other – will make their arguments during a settlement conference next week in New York State Supreme Court.

Lewisboro officials have good reason to favor the wolf center in their town. A group of donors backing the project paid $1 million to purchase the eight acres of land in January 2010, with the understanding the property would be turned into an education center as well as home to three wolves. Town Supervisor Charles Duffy said Lewisboro officials "thought the Wolf Center would be a great attraction. Plus, we needed that $1 million to help the town through a tough financial situation."

The land trust charges that permitting the wolf center and allowing the acreage to be fenced off violates the terms of a conversation easement that requires the preserved space to remain open to the public "in perpetuity." Backers of the wolf center say they're not doing anything wrong because, as the Journal reports, the fence can, "in theory, be taken down." Maybe so, but for now, the idea first advanced by Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanack, that "“Good fences make good neighbors," is anything but the case here.—Bruce Trachtenberg