WPCNR COMMON COUNCIL CHRONICLE-EXAMINER By John F. Bailey. July 9, 2014:
It was a hot and steamy night Monday evening in City Hall rife with hot air, rancor, and downright confusion during the opening hearings on the closing of Hathaway Lane and the French American School of New York Site Plan for the old Ridgeway Country Club.
The highlight of the evening was the French American School hearings which can be viewed in their entirety (including a summary by FASNY attorney Michael Zarin on how the official new site plan was developed to meet City of White Plains objections raised previously by the Council Finding Statement on the environmental review of the project. The entire hearings may be viewed on the city website at http://whiteplainsny.swagit.com/play/07072014-786
Of the 31 speakers, 17 urged the Common Council to not approve the project, and 14 spoke in favor.About half who spoke in favor were connected with the French American School in some way.
Opposition to the project centered around the closing of Hathaway Lane that Zarin said was suggested to move entry to the school from Ridgeway, and prevent “cut-through” traffic from Bryant Avenue to Ridgeway. Denise Demarzo, a resident of Hathaway made a compelling case that traffic even if encouraged to use the Hutchinson Parkway to travel to the proposed campus, would most likely use Mamaroneck Avenue instead and “cut-through” the cross streets of Gedney Esplanade, Heatherbloom, and Ridgeway to access north south residential streets (Dupont, Murchison, Seymour Place, to name just a few to get close in to the school, or avoid North Street backup. She criticised the lack of detail on the effects of heavier traffic on those narrow residential, no-sidewalk streets, “in peak hours”calling for a more detailed traffic study. She drily noted that the site plan notes the traffic in those streets “might be an inconvenice.”
(WPCNR points out that the Hutchinson River Parkway northbound into White Plains and Southbound for that matter, is normally bumper-to-bumper between 7:30 A.M. and 9 A.M. during the week all the way from New Rochelle to White Plains.) Closing of the street, she said would generate resident traffic exiting the Gedney Farms neighborhood to seek outlets on the residential streets to the west of the campus also adding to the traffic. Her comments were the most compelling of the evening.
Other opponents of the project demanded compensation to the city for closing Hathaway Lane, ignoring the fact that the city in working with the French American School as FASNY developed the site plan in some way lead FASNY to come to the decision to suggest a site plan eliminating entrance to the school off Ridgeway. Mr. Zarin indicated the city role in crafting the site plan on his appearance on People to Be Heard, the White Plains TV WPCNR interview program, Monday night.
A speaker against the project, Dan Seidel criticized Mayor Roach and Councilman John Kirkpatrick for taking political contributions from firms associated with the French American School saying the Mayor and Kirkpatrick should recuse themselves from voting on the project. Another speaker John Sheehan said holding the hearing in the crowded confines of city hall the night after a return from the 4th of July holiday was “a disgrace.” He challenged the Mayor in a fiery exchange to promise the September meeting would be held at White Plains High School in a larger setting. The Mayor did not. The Mayor said the city was not going to change its schedule and that was why Monday’s hearing was held.
Mayor Roach did his best to maintain order in the steamy hearing chastising rooters and booers and hecklers who interrupted and interacted. The Mayor did a dogged job in preventing personal attacks.
Other persons against the project, critcised the size of the buildings, urging they be scaled down since the student capacity of the campus had been lowered from 1,250 to 950. “Why do they need so much space?” one speaker commented.
Other comments were more general, that the project was too big to put into a residential neighborhood; that it was only a matter of time that the school would attempt to expand; that home values had declined.
Fourteen persons spoke in favor of the project. John Botti, a new resident of White Plains, who is on the Board of FASNY, flatout said that in the last six yuears price per square foot of homes in the Gedney area were up, sales were up and sales volume were up. Others pointed out how FASNY would add a great attraction to White Plains. Phil McGovern was the most positive saying addition of FASNY would be “transformational.”
The Hathaway Lane Closing hearing began approximately 8:30, and the second hearing on the site plan was opened about 10:30. Originally it was understood that both matters the closure of Hathaway Lane and the FASNY Site Plan and Request for Special Permit would run simultaneous. This is apparently no longer the case, with one hearing being opened first, adjourned around 10:30 and the second opened.
In other major action, the Council voted 6 in favor with Councilwoman Nadine Hunt-Robinson obstaining to declare a moratorium on issuing new cabaret licences after a public hearing on the resolution. Dan Coughlin, owner of The Colisseum made an impassioned plea not to declare a moratorium saying White Plains had within 1 mile of city hall 160 vacant store fronts. He said he knew of 5 businesses recently attempting to establish wine and cheese bars, running afoul of White Plains cabaret requirements such as “cabarets must have full kitchens.” Mayor Roach tried to defuse and assure businesses the moratorium was being declared just so the city could work with cabaret owners to upgrade supposedly more liberal and modern regulations reflective of new trends. Roach assured prospective cabaret entrepreneurs proposals for cabarets would continue to be accepted and processed under the moratorium.
The city also voted to approve a new Air Pollution ordinance, moderated by suggestions proposed by the attorney James Glaathar, whose letter to WPCNR and the Mayor prompted the city tweaking of the ordinance. The Mayor gave Mr. Glaathar full credit for improving the processes apartments especially have available to them to change from Number 6 and Number 4 fuel oil. (More details to follow).
The city voted to spend $125,000 to fix the leaking and presently inert Renaissance Fountain and repair and create more effective chemical storage in the fountain. Milagros Lecouna said that an outside fountain consultant will be retained to analyze the fountain and see if it could be saved and restored or whether another use could be found for it. She said the fountain should be working in about a month. Currently it is not working and has not worked since last summer.
The council scheduled a public hearing August 4 to hear comments on renaming the Traffic Commission the “Transportation Commission” and revise its membership requirements and duties.