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.


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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