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Fire ravages longtime Sprainbrook nursery


A 70-plus-year-old local institution was destroyed by a fire Sunday night, Sept. 27, as flames ripped through the Sprainbrook Nursery at the corner of Underhill and Sprain roads in the Edgemont section of Greenburgh.

Chief Dan Raftery of Greenville Fire District said, “We got a report around 9 p.m. Sunday about a fire in a building on Underhill Road and it was the main building of the nursery. We used extensive mutual aid from neighboring districts assisting including Yonkers, Eastchester, New Rochelle and Scarsdale. Greenville firefighters stayed at the scene all night, breaking down hot spots as the building had partially collapsed onto burning rubble. It was, though, all extinguished by daylight Monday.”

Raftery confirmed the cause of the fire is currently under investigation but not deemed suspicious. In an effort to figure out what started the fire, Greenville Fire District Cause and Origin Team and the Westchester County Department of Public Safety conducted a walk through later on, according to the Greenburgh police, aided by a K9 dog trained to alert to possible accelerants. Greenburgh police officers also were at the scene. The premises were closed for business at the time of the fire and there were no reported injuries.

Jonathan Faust is an Edgemont resident who has been a volunteer firefighter at Greenville for 11 years, and more recently also a fire commissioner. He said, “The volunteer company was paged out immediately on Sunday. Volunteers are always called in a major episode like this; you need a lot of hands, which is also why it was a mutual aid call, with neighboring towns helping. Pelham Manor and Eastchester helped in that they relocated one of their rigs to our house, so that it wasn’t empty in case another fire-related incident occurred while we were all at the Sprainbrook scene. There was actually a call that came in around midnight, from someone smelling smoke in a nearby home.”

The Greenville Fire Company No. 1, the volunteer arm of the Greenville Fire District, was formed in 1913 and is the oldest continuing volunteer organization in the area. 

Faust said the Sprainbrook fire, though significant, was in an area somewhat removed from civilian homes and was unoccupied at the time the fire broke out. “It didn’t present the same type of life hazard that adds dramatically to the risk.”

History of the business

Owner Al Krautter’s parents founded the nursery, a 3.82-acre property, near Anthony J. Veteran Park, in 1944. After nearly 70 years in business, Krautter put the property on the market in 2012, citing competition from big-box retailers. In 2012 he closed the landscaping and retail business, and then reopened the greenhouse in spring 2013, operating it on a limited basis.

The nursery was the site of another fire Dec. 21 of last year. The blaze broke out in a 20-square-foot cinderblock building that had been used to store clay flowerpots and landscaping equipment behind the greenhouses. Only the nursery building, located on Underhill Road, was damaged in that fire.

The nursery property has been a focus of much discussion in the Town of Greenburgh this year, as Formation Shelbourne Senior Living Services, LLC filed an application to buy the property and build a 70,000-square-foot, 80-bed assisted living facility, raising some concern among local residents. An ordinance, adopted by the town two years ago, requires that all such facilities in residential zoning districts be located on minimum 4-acre sites that are within 200 feet of a state or county right-of-way where it would be easier for emergency medical vehicles to reach them.

The Sprainbrook Nursery site is about a mile away from the nearest state or county right-of-way. Formation Shelbourne was planning to apply for a variance, and then discovered that in the 1960s when the Sprain Parkway was being built, the state obtained a 9,000-square-foot “right-of-way” on a narrow portion of the Sprainbrook property alongside Underhill Road and a portion of Sprain Road. Town Supervisor Paul Feiner told the Inquirer, “I feel horrible about the fire. The Sprainbrook Nursery has been an important part of our community for many years. I feel sorry for Al Krautter who has devoted his life to the nursery and who is such a nice man. I don’t think that the fire will have any impact on the review process for the assisted living facility. The application will be reviewed on its merits and decisions should not be based on the fire.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

October 2, 2015