Hathaway Lane Tour Illustrates Concerns With FASNY Proposal

As the debate over the French-American School of New York's plans for the former Ridgeway Country Club property continues to draw controversy—one local couple is inviting White Plains residents to take a "boots-on-the-ground" view of their property.

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 wpneighborhoods@aol.com.

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wpRez August 24, 2011 at 05:37 PM
I agree that this sounds like a better alternative - but the funding sounds sketchy. Why wasn't this explored during the lengthy period of time the property was for sale? I just don't think the city should be spending tax dollars on something like this at this point in time while teachers, etc are being laid off (a whole other discussion). If the city was not able to purchase the land, then what? It seems to me that the choice is really between this school, or selling to a developer for filling the space with new homes. I imagine neighborhood residents would rather have the school? I don't live in the neighborhood now but did grow up there. Other than people who live directly within view of the property, it sounds like a good thing for the area and the city when compared with the other (realistic) alternatives.
truthbetold August 24, 2011 at 06:04 PM
wpRez, Please do not forget, the city will be using tax payers money in improving the infrastructure, police, fire, sanitation, loss of tax revenue, upkeep of the "donated" (not deeded) property: etc. This is not a little school house. This is 1200 students, 300 faculty and staff, 700 plus cars in and out of the area twice a day ~20 to 30 buses. etc. The plan simply does not fit and will cost tax payers. I disagree with you that this will only affect those within the view of the property. Where is all this traffic going to go? Every taxpayer in WP will be paying, not just those within view of the property. The area is NOT zoned for a campus which is exactly what this is. Why would we ever rather have a school then new homes. Because of the wetland, they are limited on how many homes can be built but certainly, single family homes will have far less of an impact and will bring in tax revenue. The comprehensive plan clearly states that first, a golf course or recreational use belongs there and if that can not be done, then single family homes on, I believe, 3/4 acre. Why should we deviate from that for FASNY???? Why should there be a zoning change or a special use permit allowed so they can build their Regional Educational Center that your child HAS to speak French in order to be accepted. This is NOT a neighborhood school.
Dan Seidel August 24, 2011 at 06:12 PM
I was involved with Marc Pollitzer in 2006 and 2007 with trying to explore the option of sale of conservation easements. Ridgeway never took it further. The Delfino admin was opposed to anything I proposed. Adam and the present CC, in 2009, promised, to a one, to explore this, and then they dropped the ball. The present admin under Tom may do this. The funding is not sketchy, but the municipality MUST reach out - it has never done so. When $10 Million per year was available for flood projects under Spano ($50 M, 5 year plan/funding) I begged for a project - Habel promised and said she made applications - County said no application ever ever crossed their desks (Gerry Mulligan - Planning and Rob Doscher). nothing. So now it's part of what will be reviewed by a Court eventually. I have brought this up innumerable times and will produce the "docs" in the DEIS. C'est la guerre. It's very doable. Castelli was contacted very very recently and he said the funding could be put together. The political will is lacking and always was. They cannot think outside the box. too busy earning salaries. We have a catering hall with room for 300 and a parking lot already. Such a center/restaurant is a perfect low impact sustainable veggie producing, educational center fit. Maybe that is why I am poor - my attention is on this and not making salary. like a moth drawn to a flame.....
Dan Seidel August 24, 2011 at 06:16 PM
And Adam's proposal was mickey mouse and meant to give his parents (?- rumor) and the rest of the shareholders a huge windfall - $15 million? not!! we can do this for $3M at best and bond with the proceeds paying off the bonds within 5-10 years at these low rates. PDR $$ from outside sources ($7-8M - State, Feds, County, private Land Tructs, etc.) provides the rest and the French School makes a small profit - they go away. eveyone is happy. Need be, we hire Audra from Stone Barns and lease her the restaurant until we train our own people and provide local jobs. What's not to like?
truthbetold August 24, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Also, please do not forget, FASNY almost lost the bid to someone who wanted to run it as a private golf course. This option should not be taken off the table. The property was not on the market for a "lengthy" amount of time. They had taken it off the market for some time because they had increased their membership and thought they could make a go of it. I must ask WpRez as well as anyone else who would like to answer: How does WP benefit from FASNY's plan????? I am not looking for you to repeat their empty promises of donated (again not deeding) land that will cost us is so many ways. I would like to hear specifics on how WP's will become a better place to live.
Jack August 24, 2011 at 06:44 PM
Ellen Alzerez August 24, 2011 at 08:57 PM
The Solomon Schecter School and The German School were elementary schools sold to them by the City -- already schools neigbors were accustomed to. The North St. Assn. had issues with The German School. One was enrollment size, and White Plains placed a cap on it. It is 375 and the school is trying to increase that number to 500, as well as create parking behind homes where parking did not previously exist. North St. Assn. is not in favor of these changes. I don't know the history of The Solomon Schecter School. More to the point, since these two schools were originally public schools, they were tax exempt and used city services and infrastructure. Nothing has changed in this regard, and these two private schools did not suddenly become a tax drain on White Plains when they began operations. In fact, White Plains gained, as they were PAID for the schools. On the other hand, The FASNY wants to create a completely new school campus spread over about 58 acres in a location not zoned for a school. It is horribly invasive, will create a traffic nightmare on Ridgeway and will FOREVER BE A FINANCIAL DRAIN ON THE CITY AND TAX PAYERS BECAUSE IT IS TAX EXEMPT. What they are offering, occasional use of their athletic fields and biking/walking/jogging paths on sensitive wetlands is a poor trade off for the damage they will cause and their financial cost to White Plains. Zoning laws have to be upheld, or White Plains will be hostage to any developer.
Dan Seidel August 24, 2011 at 11:05 PM
After all the info, real hard data and facts and details and documents posted and written about and commented on - Jack: you're putting us on, right? I mean, no one can be this ignorant anymore. Dude - listen to yourself! You are in a different universe - got aluminum foil pasted all over your walls?
wpRez August 25, 2011 at 02:17 PM
All - someone told me about this site and I thought it would be a better place to continue the discussion so that other people can find it and participate: http://forums.whiteplainsfamily.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=50&p=83
Ellen Alzerez August 25, 2011 at 02:58 PM
wpRez, in answer to your questions posted on whiteplainsfamily.com, current zoning does not allow FASNY to build a school. How could you still be confused on this issue, as so many posts have clearly made this point? The land is zoned for 3/4 acres, single-family residential homes. FASNY needs a special permit to build their school. And why does the size of type give commenters "zero to no credibility"? There is no other way on Patch to emphasize a point. Furthermore, are you deliberately overlooking the tax burden FASNY would bring to WP? FASNY is tax exempt -- a point that commenters have repeatedly made. Your posting on the new cite you mention makes me think you are either flying the flag of ignorance or the flag of FASNY. No one can be that uninformed at this point, so I think you have shown your true colors, and are shilling for FASNY, like the other trolls.
Dan Seidel August 25, 2011 at 03:14 PM
wpRez: saw the cite/site. Gonna keep my comments here. too many places and this site (Patch) gets out to all, so all can see. Anyway, read up on the former articles, docs, and comments to get the current skinny. You're about 2-3 levels of understanding behind and it would take a repost of many to bring you up to speed. read up please. Now we hear the big pond retaining wall is failing and 1,000,000 gallons of water are about to flow into the nursery? the retaining wall is leaking? saturated? not being cared for/maintained/inspected by the French School owners? can't wait to see this one!! gonna laugh real hard!!!!!!! french clowns! Violations of state wetland laws? - not follwing maintenance law and regs - love it!!! LOOKOUT BELOW!!!!!!!
wpRez August 25, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I prefer to remain willfully ignorant of many of these details. I am not a lawyer and am not interested in reading 1000's of pages about environmental and zoning laws and don't feel I need to in order to have a high level opinion of this situation. I am open and interested in hearing your arguments but it is hard to separate the facts from the hysterics displayed by the outspoken group of people who have homes that overlook the site. Ellen - I know it must be shocking for you to think that there is someone out there that has a different opinion than yours and the only possible explanation for this is that I must be somehow associated with the school. You are free to believe what you think but I am a 3rd generation White Plains resident whose family has owned two generations of businesses here and whose family has attended WP public schools since the 1950's. I am giving my opinion of the high level concepts of having a school like this in White Plains - not of the environmental or legal impacts. I trust the system to enforce that whatever plan is executed, they will have to follow all of the environmental and construction codes or else face fines or cessation of construction as with any other project. You can ignore my opinions and I don't really care if you do - but know that the majority of people in this city are not going to read books on zoning laws or months of articles before forming their own opinions either.
Dan Seidel August 25, 2011 at 03:51 PM
well, gee- a mob mentality man!! let's all stay stupid!!! 6 blind people and the elephant!! ALL I see is what I see and that is it - I do not know what is out there - the earth is flat!! I do not want to educate myself - you do it for me!! sounds like a temper tantrum. Is that what you truly wish for - ignorance on and of written about issues? what would it take to make you read? what would it take to get you educated on this stuff? Are those so blind that they WILL NOT SEE?
Dan Seidel August 25, 2011 at 04:17 PM
http://www.bluehillfarm.com/food/blue-hill-new-york Think we can pull THIS off? I do!!! I'd bet the farm on it!!
wpRez August 25, 2011 at 04:18 PM
a) The only mob mentality I see is here from this bunch. b) I don't have time nor interest to engage you on a point to point battle. c) The last thing I'll say is that the the main positive aspect of the plan which I mentioned but "Joseph" ignored was the nature preserve. d) On the issue of the tax exemption - to me this is an issue with that tax law. I don't know if cities should be able to block non-profit, tax-exempt orgs from building just because they don't want them there. Again, don't know what the law says but philosophically I'm opposed to this. So long - I'm done posting here.
Dan Seidel August 25, 2011 at 04:21 PM
http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/ Try this link - shows what WP can do!!! IF we have the political will to do this. If not, same ol', same ol' - no new thinking. what a shame if we go that route.
Ellen Alzerez August 25, 2011 at 04:36 PM
How can you have an informed opinion if you "remain willfully ignorant of many of these details"? You don't have to be a lawyer to be aware of the facts -- there have been multiple postings with real, hard facts that explain the issues. An opinion based on nothing is worth nothing. Since you seem happy to remain uninformed, you shouldn't be labeling those who are informed as "hysterics". Those who know the facts have every right to be alarmed and to press the issue as hard as possible. FASNY is in an all-out propaganda war against Gedney Farms, spreading misinformation and outright lies. It is also making personal attacks agains residents who don't want to kiss their feet, and trying to divide the city for their benefit alone. I repeat what I have said previously -- they will destroy a neighborhood at an enormous cost to WP. They are tax exempt and taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the services provided; they will harm an environmentally important property located in a major drainage basin. I'm sure FASNY is a good school. That is not the issue. The issue has been and continues to be that it does not belong in a residential area that is not zoned for a school. FASNY is arrogant, with an enormous sense of entitlement. Just because FASNY is blinded by the light of its own self-image, doesn't mean you should be, too. Make the effort to get the real facts.
truthbetold August 25, 2011 at 10:01 PM
WpRez....there you go again, gotta be a FASNY because only FASNY has been trying to pit one neighborhood against the other and it is not working. You expose yourself when you post, "I am open and interested in hearing your arguments but it is hard to separate the facts from the hysterics displayed by the outspoken group of people who have homes that overlook the site." What makes you think the only people who are so against this project are people who have homes that overlook the site?????? The neighborhood association had a fund raiser back in June. There were people from Battle Hill, Fisher HIll, North Broadway, Highlands, etc. etc. at the fund raiser. Not just "people who have homes that overlook the site." That's the mob mentality we are talking about. Not one person has come forward, except for Mr. annonymous wpRez, that lives in WP's and is not connected some how to the school, that supports this project. So, wpRez, forgive me but you really are full of BS....bye, bye...don't let the door......
wpRez August 25, 2011 at 10:50 PM
Can't help replying to some of the gems here. You guys are great. When someone disagrees with your campaign you see conspiracies. I don't care if you don't believe me or not. As I said in my first post I'm withholding judgement about the school project but the idea of it as presented s appealing to me. I think its a better plan than putting houses there and personally would enjoy using the open space even if its a few acres. I would like to become more informed about the facts but frankly I don't trust the facts being posted by the people here - who I know live on the course or very closeby. I don't trust the facts you post any more than I would trust the facts put out by the school. If someone can post links to any independent studies done by disinterested parties I would find time to read them. I don't have any preference either way if the school gets built or not as my kids go to WP public schools and I couldn't afford their school anyway. Would I rather have it be another Stone Barns? Hell yes! But clearly that is not happening for whatever variety of reasons. I am a skeptic by nature and when I see people shouting down others, accusing them of conspiracies, and using language like "STOP THE FRENCH SCHOOL INVASION " I have trouble taking them seriously.
truthbetold August 25, 2011 at 11:34 PM
WpRez... Look back at jacks response. Seems you have no problem with his "shouts". If we are to believe you are not bias in any way then you again expose yourself. FASNY has been just as arrogant throughout this process. No conspiracy...just facts. Anyway, thought you were leaving this sight and not coming back? You are an obvious fraud
Ellen August 26, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Wprez, my name is Ellen lee and I am the one giving the tour. I invite you to take the tour. I use literature taken from FASNY's website as well as other documents with references you can check for yourself. I don't have 1000 pages of legal documents, just simple facts. Don't know what type of independent studies you are looking for but there are plenty out there that dispute many statements made by FASNY. If you sincerely would like to gather information I invite you. Send me an email, wpneighborhoods@aol.com and we will arrange to meet.
Dan Seidel August 26, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Can we all agree to call the school "the French School" as FASNY is the Fireman's Association of the State of NY and it's really unfair to that venerable organization which owns the acronym.
Dan Seidel August 26, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Just a few of the myriad sites on property values and open space preservation: http://www.privatelandownernetwork.org/plnlo/danielslandpreservation.asp http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/success/philadelphia.shtml http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/environmental/openspacepreserv10.pdf http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/60704/1/zhifangw_1.pdf http://www.feem-web.it/ess/ess05/files/Anderson.pdf http://www.uncg.edu/bae/econ/seminars/Heintzelman.pdf and don't think a Blue Hill Stone Barns type center is not feasible - it is - even the French School will have it's price. Maybe rezoning does not have to take place IF the school agrees to sell the development rights as part of our purchase price. leave the single family zoning intact to allow the sale/PDRs AND WP purchase of the land(s). Ya' never know until you try.
Dan Seidel August 26, 2011 at 02:02 AM
More property value/open space studies. The we'll hit on stormwater analysis, traffic, setting/environmental features, appropriateness for neighborhood character, density/% of institutional use in the area, Comprehensive Plan, permitted uses, etc. The studies are great and so is the data. But ya' have to read the stuff and become educated and familiar to be "in the game" - how else to make the knowlegeable decision? so let's keep going: http://www.webmeets.com/files/papers/AERE/2011/49/abstract_AERE2011conference.pdf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_open_space http://www.rff.org/documents/RFF-DP-07-33.pdf http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/21907/1/sp03ta01.pdf
Dan Seidel August 26, 2011 at 02:15 AM
some Bonnie Briar land use/recreational zoning/5th Amendment taking case law and analyses - I know, you have to read the cases and the analysis of some attorneys, but how else to know the issues and make an informed decision? If it were me, I'd want to make an educated decision and I'd want to be up on the issues - knowledgeable so I could discuss them without looking and feeling foolish, so here's some more reading (we'll get to the school's "presumption" in a bit): http://www.law.cornell.edu/nyctap/I99_0155.htm http://landuse.law.pace.edu/landuse/documents/PublishedArticle/Reg2/RecZonRegTakings.doc http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1715&context=lawfaculty http://www.communityrights.org/Newsroom/crcInTheNews/LGLW12-6-99.asp http://hercules.gcsu.edu/~hedmonds/Reserve%20Reading/admin%20law/Community%20Interests%20v.%20Property%20Rights.html http://www.wpccos.org/Documents/CCOS%20fall%202010%20newsletter.pdf http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1693&context=lawfaculty http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1273&context=facpubs
Dan Seidel August 26, 2011 at 02:25 AM
2 more - sorry! PS: Bonnie Briar was appealed to the US Supreme Court - it refused to hear the appeal, meaning Bonnie Briar is THE LAW OF THE LAND!!!! THESE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA MUST FOLLOW BONNIE BRIAR!!!!! http://www.sjsu.edu/people/allen.tai/courses/urbp255/s2/Golden%20Anniversary%2030%20Year%20Old%20Decision%20is%20Fabric%20of%20Land%20Use%20Law.pdf http://www.impactfees.com/publications%20pdf/23039.schwartz%20GELPI7%2011-29-04.pdf
Dan Seidel August 26, 2011 at 03:57 AM
http://www.rc.com/Bio.cfm?eID=736 Dwight Merriam, Esq. also Rx'ed in an April, 2010 symoposium/workshop on stormwater regulations and land use, County Center, sponsored by Westchester County and Westchester County Soil & Water Conservation District, also highly Rx'ed Bonnie Briar type legislation for the White Plains conundrum. I believe I have the course materials and CD. The County certainly does.
Ellen August 28, 2011 at 03:54 PM
For those that were wondering, wprez never took me up on the offer to take the tour. Please see my last response. It is a perfect opportunity to take a look for yourself, even using literature put out by FASNY to draw some of your own conclusions. Wprez, the offer is still good. Email wpneighborhoods@aol.com and I will take the time to give you the tour.
Adrienne November 14, 2011 at 04:57 AM
Actually, no. I found court decision about Fireman's Association of the State of New York vs. French American School. at url below. This decision seems to favor French American School also using FASNY acronym. Decision states French American School used acronym for 20 years without adverse effect on Fireman's Association, among other things. http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=200796641AD3d925_1275.xml&docbase=CSLWAR3-2007-CURR See also url below which is in "English" rather than "legalese" http://www.nylegalupdate.com/2007/06/whos_acronym_is.html
Ellen November 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM
Andrienne, my earlier post. "Since you brought it up Dan, FASNY was and still is an acronym adopted by the Fireman's Association of the State of NY in 1889. This is a VOLUNTEER group that disseminates fire safety information. The acronym was federally registered by the fireman. The French American School, founded in 1980, almost 100 years later, just begin using the acronym. According to the Firemen, they wrote two letters to the French requesting they stop using the acronym. The French ignored forcing this VOLUNTEER Firemen's association to bring a court action. After several years, back and forth, lots of money being spent, the Third Department rejected 2 out of 3 claims but allowed one of the Fireman's claims to survive (according to the 6/7/07 decision by the Appellate Division 3rd Dept). Since that ruling the matter soon thereafter "resolved" and, as you know, the French American School continue to use the FASNY Acronym. Google FASNY and see what comes up??? This acronym belongs to the Fireman's Association of the State of NY....just taken away by the French School." Never said the courts did not rule in favor of the French. Remember, that was when the School was very small. The Firefighters ended up "resolving" the case with the school. Read between the lines. The French wanted what was not theirs and in the end the volunteer group could not afford to fight it anymore, so they settled. Google FASNY and see what you get. Then tell me there is no confusion.


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