Four months ago, a public hearing on a land-use moratorium turned into a three-hour public debate on the merits or detriments of the French-American School of New York (FASNY) building a campus on the grounds of the former Ridgeway Country Club in White Plains.
After Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting, a public hearing on a scoping document related to a proposed open-space recreation district turned into a similar situation, though on a slightly smaller scale than in March. The Common Council chambers were full, while they were overflowing in March, and the atmosphere was slightly less adversarial, but many of the speakers—including members of the Gedney neighborhood association who oppose the plan and consultants and an attorney representing FASNY—spoke on FASNY’s plans to build a campus on the Ridgeway property.
FASNY, which hopes to unite its three current campuses, in Larchmont, Mamaroneck, and Scarsdale, bought the Ridgeway land in January.
In addition to the Ridgeway property, the proposed open-space recreation district encompasses the Westchester Hills and Fenway golf clubs and certain parcels along the Hutchinson River Parkway. [The full scoping document and map are available for viewing at the city’s website at cityofwhiteplains.com.]
The scoping document calls for a study to be done on possible amendments to the city’s Zoning Ordinance regarding areas—including the Ridgeway property—shown as “parks and open space” on the 1997 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map.
The Common Council designated itself as the lead agency for the environmental review in June. The scoping document’s guidelines call for various “impact issues” (traffic, visual, stormwater management, and others) to be identified and presented with “(1) a discussion of existing conditions; (2) potential significant impacts associated with the Proposed Action; and (3) measures designed to mitigate the identified impacts.”
Terence Guerriere, president of the Gedney Association, noted that the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for golf courses on the areas in question, and that if golf courses are not viable, the “least-dense zoning” should be advanced, which the Plan says would be three-quarter-acre residential lots.
“Importantly,” Guerriere said, “the plan does not include, for these properties, any clustering of buildings, no residential clustering, and certainly no non-residential clustering.”
Michael Zarin, a White Plains-based attorney representing FASNY, said that many of the proposed zoning changes are “patently illegal” and are clearly intended to prevent FASNY from being able to, for example, construct ball fields on the property. Setback requirements proposed in the zoning changes, if applied to existing public or private schools in the city, would have prevented all of them, Zarin said, citing numbers from a review that his firm conducted on existing schools. No public or private school in White Plains “can even come close,” he said, to meeting the proposed standards. He questioned how the Council could even consider the changes “fair, practical, legal, or otherwise.”
Diego Villareale, a project manager with Armonk-based John Meyer Consulting, and Graham Trelstad, a senior vice president and director of planning at White Plains-based AKRF, an environmental consulting firm, both spoke on behalf of FASNY and said that the proposed zoning changes unfairly target the school and are intended to prevent their plans.
“The FASNY proposal, as it currently stands,” Villareale said, “is an example of a responsible proposal which complies with the current zoning while preserving over 60 acres of land and maintaining over 90 percent of the overall property in this purpose area.”
Dan Seidel, a Gedney resident who is strongly opposed to having FASNY become a new neighbor of his, asked the Council for more time for the public to submit comments, and he called for further hydrology and soil studies. Seidel, an attorney, hinted that this issue is headed for State Supreme Court.
Written comments on the scoping study must be received by 5:00 p.m. on July 18 at the office of the White Plains City Clerk, 255 Main St., White Plains, NY 10601.