Some future history of White Plains could very well contain a chapter titled “The FASNY Fight.”
When the French-American School of New York bought the former Ridgeway Country Club property in January, public opposition was immediate, though not universally so.
The school hopes to unite its three current campuses—currently located in Larchmont, Mamaroneck, and Scarsdale—bringing 1,200 students to the 129-acre property.
Opponents site traffic concerns, loss of property tax revenue and property value, and increased infrastructure costs to the city, among other concerns. Residents, including Ellen and Padraic Lee, have said that the plan doesn’t fit the property or the city as a whole.
The Lees, who have lived on Hathaway Lane since 2000, invited members of the White Plains Common Council to tour their property and get a “three-dimensional, boots-on-the-ground” view of their property.
The Lees’ backyard abuts the former golf course. FASNY's plan calls for a parking lot and the school’s high school and middle school, as well as a performing arts building and gymnasium, to be constructed near their property line. A soccer field, nursery school area, and buildings for younger grades would be constructed on land across the street from the Lees’ home. [To view a map of the plan, visit fasnynewcampus.org.]
After common council members accepted the Lees’ invitation, board members of the Gedney Association asked to also take the tour as well—and from there, other residents asked to do the same. To date, all members of the common council and about 60 other White Plains residents have taken the tour, according to the Lees. About 25 of those are from neighborhoods other than the Gedney neighborhoods.
“People are amazed at how massive their proposal is,” said Ellen Lee. “...add cars, add noise pollution, air pollution, and you really see what this proposal will do to White Plains.”
FASNY officials have countered that its proposal will be good for White Plains, in large part because they plan to create Gedney Preserve, “a passive natural area with public trails for walking, jogging, and bicycling,” according to a press release.
The 60-plus-acre preserve “will also be linked to the city’s existing trail network and will be the largest open space in the City of White Plains, more than doubling the current total acreage for all the City’s parks,” according to FASNY.
That plan leaves opponents unmoved.
The Gedney Association and others have said that FASNY is really seeking to transfer the responsibility of maintaining the property to the City—though Mischa Zabotin, chairman of the FASNY board of trustees, said that the preserve will be maintained “at no cost to the City.”
Zabotin said that FASNY is “working tirelessly to find partners to help” with maintenance of the preserve. If it became necessary for some FASNY staff to maintain the land, Zabotin added, “so be it.”
Ellen Lee says residents should be worried the preserve could be taken away later. “They’re not going to deed anything [to the City],” she said. “That’s always going to be their property.”
Another point of contention has been FASNY’s claim that the school will only cover 2.74 percent of the former Ridgeway property.
Roughly 45 percent of the 129 acres will be “affected” by FASNY’s plan, Zabotin said; the 2.74 percent represents all of the buildings that will be a part of the development, including existing buildings that would remain part of the campus, according to Meredith Black, an attorney with Zarin & Steinmetz, a White Plains-based law firm that is representing FASNY.
The 2.74 number excludes the planned ball fields and parking lots that would also be part of the plan. This “building coverage number,” Black said, is one of several categories the City requires to be disclosed.
Padraic Lee said that their tours serve to “put the lie to FASNY’s footprint.”
Zabotin said that one could probably count the number of homes directly affected by FASNY’s plans “on your fingers and toes,” putting it at about 20 and adding that this is a low number when you take into account the size of the land that FASNY purchased.
Ellen Lee countered that it’s really more than 30 if you’re talking about homes that will be directly affected by the planned new construction, and it’s 117 if you include homes that abut the property. Another 300-plus homes will be affected by traffic and noise pollution, she said.
Padraic Lee said that Zabotin’s “fingers and toes” comment “demonstrates Mr. Zabotin's dismissive attitude towards the entire city.”
Alexandra Creteur, FASNY’s director of communications, said that FASNY tries to “maintain a dialogue with our neighbors (including the Lees) and we believe that as we clear up some myths and misconceptions, they will recognize that a low-density school and a 60-acre publicly accessible natural preserve are the best, most realistic uses for the defunct golf course.”
Common council members are being tight-lipped about their thoughts on the tour and on FASNY’s plans, since they just recently received the proposal.
Councilman John Martin, who lives near the Lees, said “it was very helpful to look at the FASNY site from the vantage point of the Lees and, of course, to hear the concerns of the Gedney Association firsthand.”
Martin added that the “vast majority” of constituents he hears from are very concerned about the FASNY proposal, particularly its traffic impacts. Some, he added, are in favor of the proposal “in some form or another.”
With a moratorium on development approvals in effect through Oct. 17 and a scoping study on proposed zoning changes still to be performed, the issue is really still in its infancy.
“The road ahead may be a long one on this,” Martin said.
Anyone wishing to take the Hathaway Lane tour may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.