Editor's Note: This Letter to the Editor is from the Gedney Association.
The French-American School of New York (FASNY) plans to build a massive regional educational complex on the former Ridgeway Country Club site.
FASNY has embarked upon a major public relations campaign to convince the City that this development is good for White Plains. Unfortunately, this is not true.
FASNY will cause a significant, permanent financial drain on the City. It is tax-exempt and would pay no property or school taxes, and would require municipal services for which White Plains taxpayers will pay. In addition, FASNY will create massive traffic problems throughout the south end of the City.
FASNY’s legal and public relations teams have spread misleading information suggesting that it is the only viable alternative for the property, that approval of its plans is a “done deal”, and that its Conservancy will offset the many negative aspects of its plans. Again, this is not true.
We believe that it is essential that you have the facts about this development, and that our Common Council makes an informed decision on a project that would harm both the surrounding neighborhoods and the City as a whole.
Background of FASNY Development
In early 2011, FASNY purchased the former Ridgway Country Club property. FASNY paid $8.5 million for the property and will pay the Club an additional $2.5 million if it obtains a special permit to develop the property. FASNY must obtain a special permit because current zoning only permits residential use of the property. The FASNY plan violates the 1997 Comprehensive Plan and its 2006 update, which envision a golf course, or homes on ¾ acre plots, on this site.
As a not-for-profit entity, FASNY will pay no property tax or sales tax to White Plains.
FASNY currently has about 850 students, and proposes an increase in White Plains to about 1,200 students. It also estimates about 250 staff members. It is a private school with tuition ranging from about $22,000 to nearly $26,000. FASNY plans to build four large buildings (three school buildings and a gym/performing arts building), 5 athletic fields, a running track and tennis courts. The school complex will cover approximately 46 acres of the site. The plans call for a large access road on the property, and nearly 500 parking spots. FASNY also proposes a publicly accessible nature Conservancy on the rest of the property.
The Common Council will rule upon FASNY’s application. FASNY recently submitted its Draft Environmental Impact Scoping Statement (DEIS), which the Common Council must then review and act upon. The process will take several months, if not years. Contrary to FASNY’s suggestions, its plan is not a done deal.
FASNY will impose a significant financial burden on all White Plains taxpayers
As a tax-exempt entity, FASNY will pay no taxes but will use extensive municipal services that your tax dollars will cover.
FASNY will cause your taxes to rise and your municipal services to be cut because FASNY will pay no taxes to White Plains. It will not pay for extensive municipal services such as fire, police, and sanitation services. The taxpayers of White Plains will bear these costs. By contrast, in its last year of operation, Ridgeway Country Club paid over $600,000 per year in property and sales taxes to White Plains.
White Plains has seen large property tax increases every year. Property taxes have gone up 25.6% over the last five years, and 74.7% over the last ten years. White Plains has also experienced major cuts in schools and municipal services. In the proposed 2012 budget, the City is eliminating 16 unfilled positions on top of the 74 unfilled positions and 86 filled jobs that have been cut since the end of 2009.
In this environment, does FASNY benefit White Plains financially? The answer is “no”. White Plains will have to spend more to provide services to FASNY, and you will pay more taxes and face further service cuts to support FASNY
FASNY will lower home values and property tax receipts from those homes
FASNY will decrease property values in the neighborhood surrounding the school due to additional traffic, pollution, noise and other negatives. This will hurt both the Gedney Farms neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods. Decreased property values will lead to a decreased tax base, as lower property values will lead to lower tax assessments and tax revenues. Other White Plains taxpayers will make up these losses, and City services may be cut even further.
FASNY will cause massive traffic problems throughout the surrounding area
Access to the school would be from two entrances on Ridgeway, across from Fairway Drive, and at Hathaway Lane. FASNY will add traffic signals at Fairway Drive and Hathaway Lane. FASNY estimates that over 2,200 vehicular trips will occur in peak hours. Many more trips will occur during evening and weekend hours, as will trips to the Conservancy. The peak hour trips alone will increase existing traffic volume on Ridgeway by well over 50%.
The traffic lights that FASNY will install on Ridgeway will cause massive back-ups on both Ridgeway and nearby streets, including North Street and Mamaroneck Avenue. In addition, traffic controls along Ridgeway from North Street to Old Mamaroneck road must be changed, and a new traffic light must be installed on the southbound Hutchinson River Parkway entrance at Mamaroneck Avenue!
FASNY will cause traffic to cut through local streets as drivers bypass Ridgeway during peak hours. When traffic backs up on Ridgeway, drivers will cut though side streets off on the routes that FASNY vehicles will take from surrounding towns.
FASNY's supposed economic benefits are wildly exaggerated and will not overcome the economic harm it will cause
Knowing that it will impose a significant financial burden on White Plains, FASNY claims that it will bring financial benefits to the City. This is simply not true.
Claim: FASNY claims it will bring $15.4 ml a year in spending to White Plains.
Fact: This supposed benefit would start in 2024/2025, over a decade from now!
Claim: 30% of its families will live in White Plains a decade from now.
Fact: This is sheer speculation, as less that 5% of its families now live in White Plains.
Claim: FASNY families and staff will benefit White Plains by personal spending.
Fact: This does not account for the loss of spending by current residents which FASNY families and staff would replace. FASNY will not build new homes in White Plains – their families would simply purchase or rent existing homes and would merely replace the spending that is lost when a current family moves out.
Claim: FASNY will provide an annual benefit of over $1.0 ml in sales and property taxes.
Fact: Any FASNY families that move to White Plains would merely replace current residents who already pay school and sales taxes here.
Claim: FASNY will provide a benefit of $2.75 million to White Plains Public Schools. FASNY claims that the City will not spend money on FASNY students because its students would not attend our public schools.
Fact: This is false: (1) many current White Plains families with school-age children send their children to private schools (2) many current White Plains families do not have school-age children.
There are viable alternatives to FASNY
You may hear FASNY claim that no realistic alternatives to its plans exist. This is simply not true. When FASNY bought the property, at least one golf course operator was willing to buy the property, and golf course operators remain interested in the property today.
Secondly, FASNY’S claim that the only alternative use is more than 80 homes is false. The property is environmentally sensitive and cannot support large-scale development. Experts indicate that only 30 to 40 homes could be built under current zoning, which requires ¾ acre plots. If the property is rezoned to one acre zoning, even fewer homes would be built.
Thirty to forty homes are a far better alternative for the property than FASNY. Homes will generate tax revenues for the City, and will have a minimal impact on traffic and the environment. Further, the City may negotiate with any home builder to provide open space on the site.
The FASNY Conservancy will not provide a significant benefit and will compound the harm that the school will cause
FASNY has been promoting its Conservancy without reference to the school complex next to the Conservancy. The school has become the “elephant in the room”, as FASNY would like you to forget that the real reason it is developing the property – its massive regional educational center. Further, FASNY is not obligated to create the Conservancy. FASNY characterizes the Conservancy as “aspirational" – this means that it is FASNY’s intent or hope, but is not a binding legal commitment. Further, FASNY will move forward only when funding is available and after certain phases of the project are completed in 2020.
The vast majority of the property will remain as open space whether or not FASNY builds its educational complex. The City Comprehensive Plan calls for clustered residential housing, so homes would be concentrated in one area, and open space would remain on the rest of the land. Moreover, the property is environmentally sensitive, so only a small portion could be developed for any reason.
What you can do about FASNY
If FASNY builds its massive complex, White Plains will forever face a major financial drain, and major traffic problems. FASNY will change for the worse both the surrounding neighborhoods, and the City as a whole. Simply put, a city is destroyed one neighborhood at a time.
FASNY recently submitted studies from experts in its DEIS. FASNY has selected and paid these experts – they are on FASNY’s side. The City’s staff is very competent, but FASNY is only one of its many responsibilities. The Common Council should have its own experts to judge FASNY’s studies, and the law requires FASNY to help pay the cost of the City’s experts.
1. Tell the Council that you want it to retain experienced experts to help it make an informed decision.
2. Let the Council know that you have serious concerns about the financial, traffic and other burdens that FASNY will bring.
3. Write, e-mail or call Council members:
255 Main Street
White Plains, NY 10601
Mayor Thomas M. Roach
Hon. Benjamin Boykin II
Hon. David Buchwald
Hon. Dennis E. Krolian
Hon. Milagros Lecuona
Hon. John M. Martin
Hon. Beth N. Smayda
4. Follow ongoing developments at www.gedneyfarms.net
The Gedney Association
Board of Directors
John Sheehan Garry Klein
Joseph L. DeMarzo Ellen Lee
Midge Sanchez Barbara Schwarz
Gaetano D’Antona Robert Stackpole
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Correction: This letter has been changed to reflect the correct website and a misspellling.