Open-Space Recreation District Proposed Amid FASNY Fight

After the Common Council's regular meeting on Tuesday night, a proposed recreation district covering the former Ridgeway Country Club and other properties was discussed in a public hearing.

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.


LOVE MY WP July 07, 2011 at 04:23 PM
I don't think this article did the meeting justice. Unfortunately, I could not attend the meeting but watched much of it live. There were FASNY parents, board members, and their outside consultants that tried to convince us that this would benefit the city. What was missing from these comments was exactly how it would benefit us. They tried to claim that the city was wasting money on studies that they were doing and that we should use them. WHAAT!? There was also some residents that thought this was a waste of money but let's think ahead. This case will set guidelines for the whole city and every resident should be concerned. There are plenty of wooded areas throughout the city that could fall into similar predicaments. And it might just be in your neighborhood. You might not care about this project but this is how downtown got so overdeveloped. Enough of us didn't care enough to ask questions and consider that our streets would be over-travelled. I've learned to be concerned about ALL parts of our great city to make sure that it stays great. To those of you concerned about your taxes going up, I say this- I know that feeling. I've been there and I'm there. But what you haven't thought of is this- your taxes WILL go up if FASNY builds. They will NOT pay ANY taxes. They are exempt. They will not contribute toward garbage collection, police, fire. WE WILL BE PAYING IT FOR THEM. Before speaking about this or any other project, educate yourself.
Dina Sciortino July 07, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Sorry you feel that way, but thank you for bringing your voice and concerns to the issue. Schools are tax exempt, which we have stated in past articles along with how much the country club used to bring to the city in tax revenue. We will be writing an Patch Chat regarding the open space recreation proposal, as well as a timeline of all our articles since it is so complex and so people can follow all of the aspects of the issue.
Linda J. Eisen July 07, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Dina were you responding to the above comment when you said "sorry you feel that way?" He or she is absolutely right with regard to the person who spoke about young people having to carry the load of a possible law suit. First of all, don't know where she got that idea from..perhaps FASNY. Right now what we all know to be the plan is to scope and discuss a re-zoning in order to preserve what was intended in the comprehensive plan, so many years ago. Also, the record should be set straight over and over again, the FASNY group have made the comment that no one wanted to buy the club and to maintain it as a club. That is just not true. No one was willing without and caveots to sign a contract unconditional on a mortgage. FASNY did and was. So now the gal who calls us the privilged rich Gedney people who can afford high taxes and only want to have our bucolic serenity, I say, to you.. Who are the really rich and privileged now? Not everyone who lives in Gedney is loaded. How can you assume that? AND frankly we don't necessarily want a golf club if that has to be, we just don't want baseball fields and dugouts. Who would?? Watch a golf match, they whisper, there is decorum, it's a gentle sport, there is usually no yelling. Now watch a baseball game!! Something else that baffels me, even though FASNY The most ridiculous comment that FASNY continues to sing is how this is going to benefit the entire city. That's just ridiculous! HOW??
Linda J. Eisen July 07, 2011 at 05:18 PM
One more thing that baffels me. "White Plains is reputed to be a city that values schools" this said so many times by the FASNY parents. Yes that's true. Why then don't you just send your children to school here? You rave about our schools and then don't use them. Gee that doesn't make sense to me.
Dina Sciortino July 07, 2011 at 06:45 PM
I was referring to his first sentence.
LOVE MY WP July 07, 2011 at 06:48 PM
I think Dina was apologizing that I didn't like the coverage of the meeting. But I don't think a few general statements can cover it. Especially when Zarin alone is given as much space as he was. Thank you, Linda, for your words of support for our neighborhood and our city. I cannot believe the ignorance that this project is uncovering on so many levels. I guess we'll have to keep on speaking loud & clear so nobody can twist our words!
Robert Cooke July 07, 2011 at 06:48 PM
If they get their way, the entitled few that live in this neighborhood will have all the WP taxpayers paying for their golf course views! They tried to get their boy Adam Bradley to do for them and it wasn't financially feasible then and it still isn't!
Linda J. Eisen July 07, 2011 at 07:26 PM
"Golf course views" that's all you have to say? No whoever you are that is just not at all what this is about! Archie Bunker could come up with better than that Its about a city that we all love and chose to call home unlike most of our affluent French friends who chose Rye,Larchmont and Scarsdale for the most part So build your massive dream in one of those boutiqe towns and villages. We are out of Open Space!! !
Ruthmarie Hicks July 07, 2011 at 07:55 PM
This is first and foremost a ZONING issue. Always was, always has been. But the issues here at stake have tentacles that reach throughout the city into every neighborhood and every home. You CAN NOT allow zoning ordinances to become mere suggestions to be changed at the whim of every developer that whispers "lawsuit" if they don't get their way. Let that happen once and watch property values tank city-wide. People who buy property in a municipality need to know the zoning ordinances have "teeth" or they won't buy. THAT is what this is all about and if people from other WP neighborhoods don't "get it" they will when a developer scarfs up a block of residential space and proposes to level the homes for condos - creating concrete walls for their backyard view. Don't think it can't happen to you? Guess again. If you let developers bully you once with the threat of a lawsuit there will be 10 more behind them singing the same song. FASNY is playing games - pure and simple. They bought knowing full well that what they wanted to build required a special permit and that the city was within its rights to say "no". If they were stupid enough to sign contracts for something like that - that's their problem - not the city's and not the Gedney residents. My guess is that they said "Zoning Schoming - we're rich, we have deep pockets, we'll just FORCE the city to do our bidding by scaring them with lawsuits." After all - that's how other projects got forced through.
LOVE MY WP July 07, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Like my first 'last' sentence, please read up on this and educate yourself. I do not have a golf course view by the way. I just don't want to have to time when I can drive on Ridgeway or North St or Mamaroneck Ave. The actual day-to-day stuff probably won't effect me on my street but if I have somewhere to go, it will once I'm on the larger streets. If you travel those streets regularly between 7 and 9 am, you know what I'm saying. If you don't, please take a drive any weekday after 912/11 and tell me those roads can handle 1200 MORE students and the necessary faculty & administration.
LOVE MY WP July 07, 2011 at 09:53 PM
I have other thoughts to residents of other neighborhoods and/or those with young children- I do not have any school-age children. If we were able to pick & choose what's important to each individual household, I would be saving about 80%(?) of my tax bill because, if I follow your train of thought, I shouldn't care about our school system. But see, I do care because, my husband and I, in addition to our grown children, all did use the schools with great pride and I want them to continue to excel. PLus, the PUBLIC school system is what helps to sell a house. It's obvious people will drive to private schools. And I do care about other neighborhoods and their traffic. That is why I choose to not add to the congestion in the Highlands when I drive to the train station several times a day for my husband and children to go to and from work or school. Maybe I shouldn't, if I follow your mindset.
Ruthmarie Hicks July 07, 2011 at 10:16 PM
The hypocrisy is so thick here you could cut it with a knife. The "Country Homes" and other terms that FASNY used to mock the Gedney residents while calling them "rich cry babies who want golf course views" ring false when you look at the typical FASNY parent. It is being cynically used to draw class warfare lines between the merely well-heeled resident and middle class White Plains. The average sales price for Gedney was well under $1 million over the past six months (~$840,000). Well heeled, but no where near an "estate" by NY standards. Yet the bulk of FASNY parents come from Scarsdale, Larchmont, Harrison & Rye, and Greenwich. I serve most of these areas and for people living there - White Plains - even Gedney - is a tough sell. When I suggest WP to some who can't afford what they want in one of these towns a large percentage of them will say - "but I want a GOOD area!" Many (but not all!) turn their noses up at White Plains as being too middle class, too pedestrian. Comparing the average sales price between Gedney and the towns that most FASNY parents call home: Scarsdale - the average price of SF home is 48% higher, for Larchmont, a more modest 33% more, for Rye/Harrison it was 44% more. This is pure theater. Sad to see that it actually works.
Dan Seidel July 07, 2011 at 10:34 PM
I thought we were all very civil with each other. Bottom line is that we need the open space and storm water control/nitrogen load reduction (federal lawsuit!!!) and the school adds absolutely nothing to White Plains.
Ellen July 08, 2011 at 01:41 AM
Zone changes is the perogative of the council. Always has been and always will be. Whether the French School likes it or not, it is sacrosanct. There is nothing illegal about it. It was in concideration prior to FASNY even buying the land. Does anyone wonder why they Hamshire when they attempted to purchase that property about a year ago. FASNY has not been truthful with the public as I have outlined in detail in two letters to the council. They want what they want with absolutely no comprimise. They came up with the same old, disengenous arguments. By the way Mr. Cooke, its the French who want to build their Regional Educational Center in a residential neighborhood and have the taxpayers foot the build. They don't pay taxes, major infrastructure changes will be required and paid for by the tax payers, police, fire, garbage pickup etc, etc. will be further stress our already unstable economy.
Ellen Alzerez July 08, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Waging a propaganda war to sway people by appealing to class envy is a despicable tactic. It reflects poorly on FASNY and is completely hypocritical for an elitist, private school with a minimum tuition of $20,000 a year. By playing hardball and threatening legal action they think they can steamroll the city so that it will ignore the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning codes -- which do not permit a school on the former RCC property. FASNY knew when they bought the property that their enormous plan was not permitted. They agreed to pay Ridgeway an additional $2.5 million if they received a Special Permit within two years. The $takes are too high for White Plains and its residents to roll over. FASNY is tax exempt. The loss of real estate taxes will be passed on to tax payers. We will have to pay the bill for their use of municipal services and infrastructure. Furthermore, they are trumpeting how they will create new jobs in construction and teaching. The construction jobs will be short term, and there is no guarantee that all of these jobs or any of these jobs will go to White Plains residents. They have nothing in their quiver, just their default tactic of besmirching Gedney Farms residents whose lives will be upended and home values trashed, as they try to bully the city into submission. If FASNY succeeds, it would be a terrible precedent when future developers come knocking with proposals that our ordinances and zoning prohibit.
Linda J. Eisen July 08, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Mr Zarin referred to the present set backs and existing side yard boundries compeling us to acknowledge an unfairness when their plan to build ball arenas, stands soccer fields and dugouts would be impeded by the three quarter acre zoning reqirment under the comprehensive plan.He makes the argument that it is illegal to prevent FASNY a private school,tax exempt "to boot"hold to a higher requirement.The way I look at it is the key word is exsisting.Zoning, strict zoning reqirements and building codes are what protect all our property values our towns villages and even CITIES. And anyone who knows anything about White Plains planning and building depts they don't fool around.White Plains is not going to roll over even for the 2.5 mill.
WP is ridiculous July 14, 2011 at 02:14 AM
White plains didn't want to buy the property to run as a golf course but now insists it be maintained as open space - ridiculous! What is the big deal about a school in a residential area? I hope you get the many additional houses/traffic/burden on your infrastructure that you deserve.
LOVE MY WP July 14, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Unless your initials are WP, you speak with pure and total ignorance. But you have that right. I'll take houses any day of the week over a school for 1200 students.
Dan Seidel July 14, 2011 at 02:44 AM
What a mean, rotten, evil dude you are! What's wrong with preserving open space? ever thought about that one? is the concept too involved to wrap your pea brain around? How about this one: nitrogen farming! - we have a $235,000,000 bond/settlement with the feds in the Mam'k River Valley Sewer District only - we need to reduce nitrogen load in "the valley" - you a member of that club, pal? I am!! kind of exclusive - you assessed? thought not - in fact: you have no idea what I am talking about do you? Ilk like you is why it's good to have a representative democracy - can't trust you lumpen with direct voting - too stupid - your kind would kill off the earth and think "we done good, ma!". and from where did you crawl out from under a rock: what town you hail from - cementville? urinetown? keep drinking your koolaid - sometimes we need pawns and fodder - we'll call you - you're not going anywhere.
RMGHicks July 14, 2011 at 02:51 AM
If FASNY parents think WP is ridiculous - they didn't do their due diligence. WP is VERY STRICT with respect to zoning ordinances. Only during the era of Delfino when he rolled over for Cappelli were strict zoning ordinances ignored. Well, Delfino isn't mayor any more and FASNY isn't Cappelli. Getting special permits is NOT easy in White Plains and had FASNY done their homework on that issue they would have known that. If you think WP is so ridiculous than buy one of the houses whose value would be trashed at current market value and tell me how much you like a massive building and sports fields literally in your back yard.
Ellen July 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM
What is the big deal of a school in a residential area?????? The only thing ridiculous is your statement!!! There are 8 schools within a 1 mile radius and the French school's proposal is bigger then two Stepinac high schools put together. The city in fact wanted to run it as a golf course as well as adding two additional pools so please get your facts straight before you post. Ridgeway and their representatives would not allow enough time for a proper feasibility study and the politicians wanted to spend 15 million which was way too much. But that really is the way FASNY supporters (majority with direct ties to FASNY) have operated throughout this project. Just misinform, confuse and attempt to divide the opponent, especially when you can't win on merit.
Ellen July 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM
And delfino didn't just roll over for capelli! We will be paying for that fools greed and corruption for a long time to come!
Linda J. Eisen July 14, 2011 at 04:48 PM
"Not a pretty picture" wise words from one of the speakers at the scoping meeting last tuesday evening. Nor are the words of some non Gedney residents who think wrongly they won't be negatively effected by this FASNY plan. A comment was made that this back and forth fodder essencially was "appealing to class envy" I guess it is. And how sad is that? Why do the residents "deserve" as this class-deprived gentleman remarked, "get what they deserve" What do you think we deserve? Yes, this is from ignorance and I would like to say to him...Be careful what you wish for. If you do live in the surrounding area or if you live in White Plains, at all, you too will live to regret your remarks and frankly, if you, like some of the residents who in the early and mid 2000's those who paid at the height of the market, like one of the persons who spoke last Tuesday evening living in the Highlands, with such absolute words of detain that we are not welcoming to the FASNY group with a "bien venue" Well those are the persons I feel the most sorry for, because they will having paid at the height of the market feel the pinch the most in their pockets should this ridiculous plan go through. Gedney may be one of the pricey pockets in the city, but all declines from in any area the highest, or what you think is the highest. Soooo, you better hope the values if not go up, at least remain stable.
John July 20, 2011 at 10:24 PM
The point Zarin seems to be making is that the proposal retroactively changes the zoning rules significantly. Ridgeway had made it clear 18-24 months earlier it was in crisis and would sell. Heaps of time for proposals to change zoning and for WP to buy the land. BTW $15MM is a lot of money but was probably low for a municipal golf course; there was no provision for drainage and flood control. But the real objection to the proposal is that it doesn't define what the point of keeping open space is. If the goal is to increase public access open space, the criteria clearly fail since short of buying the property and making a public park , WP will not have created any benefit. As a golf course it would provide paying access to members and the 5% built space limitation would probably prevent any improvements being made to the club aka a deal killer. To go ahead and build houses would reduce green space and again would not do anything for public access. A free 70 acre park and some access to sports facilities would seem to give the public access to a space which currently just a view for neighbors and a green blotch on a map for most residents. And with only 10% of the site being built on the FASNY plan would also seem to be pretty good at keeping a green space for the environment, as well as dealing with the flooding. So how actually does the proposal benefit the 52000 odd residents?
Ruthmarie Hicks July 21, 2011 at 12:35 AM
The problem here is that the land wasn't ZONED FOR WHAT THEY WANT to begin with. That's just the way it is. That was why $2.5 million was withheld. If the zoning was in place for what they wanted to do - there would have been no withholding of funds. They knew from the beginning it was chancy and they didn't do their research. CAVEAT EMPTOR - let the buyer beware.... FASNY has no intention of maintaining the open space - nor does it have any INTENTION of deeding the space to White Plains....All it is doing is foisting the maintenance of property it CAN'T DEVELOP ANYWAY on the city of White Plains. This isn't a "gift" - its a dump job.
Ellen July 21, 2011 at 01:17 AM
So John, now its 70 acres of "free" park they are allowing us to use? I have heard 40, 50, 60, now Zaboltin says its 60 to 80? Come on!! Do you realize that they are not "giving" anything to the city? Do you realize they are not "deeding" anything to the city??? Do you even realize that at anytime they can take it back?? It's pure nonsense. And you are now believing their lies about "10%" of the property being built on. NOT TRUE!! The proposal has changed considerably since their open house spreading out at least an additional 25 - 30 acres. Just looking at their website that has the "plan" any novice can tell it's much more. FASNY has lost thier credibility because of their multitude of lies and half truths. And what exactly do you know about their ability to deal with the flooding? I for one can tell you that placing a couple of retention ponds on the property certainly won't do it. There is nothing "green" about FASNY's proposal, there is nothing "friendly" about FASNY's proposal and there is certainly NO benifit for White Plains about FASNY's proposal. T


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