WPCNR LETTER TICKER. August 13, 2014:
DAVID vs. GOLIATH
THE BATTLE CONTINUES
Over the course of the last three years, I have written many letters to you, Mayor Roach and Common Council members, voicing my opposition to the French-American School of New York’s proposed project. One of my letters referred to the events unfolding as a David vs. Goliath battle.
That analogy still applies because this is not a level playing field and never has been. FASNY has an army of consultants, lawyers, and public relations personnel as part of its team. Despite this array, the opposition is resolute, has fought back hard, and has gained the support of a broad cross section of White Plains residents. The more that is revealed about the FASNY project, the more the opposition grows.
From FASNY’s very first plan, shown at a presentation by the Gedney Association on 1/06/11, the proposed project has morphed and expanded until it has reached the current size of 261,200 sq. feet on a 53.2-acre campus.
Like “The Blob,” in the classic Steve McQueen horror movie, the project has been spreading and devouring the former Ridgeway Country Club. Looking at the plan shown at that January meeting is surreal, because by 1/29/11, at an open house, FASNY presented a plan so different and so much larger, that it seemed like slight of hand. See http://whiteplainsusa.com/ridgeway01.htm The first plan appears practically benign in comparison to the current monster.
Following the Finding Statement, which called for reduced student enrollment from 1,200 to 950, FASNY did something completely counterintuitive in its Special Permit/Site Plan Application submitted 5/21/14. It did not decrease the size of the proposed buildings.
It increased the size by 30,337 sq. ft. Why is this latest increase necessary? The explanations offered by the FASNY team at the 7/15/14 Planning Board meeting do not pass the smell test. The only logical explanation is that, if allowed to build the school, at some future date, FASNY will return to the Common Council to ask for an increase in enrollment to the original 1,200, or perhaps even more.
Vintage French Whine
At the same Planning Board meeting, FASNY representatives mentioned the enormous cost of constructing bicycle paths and the 3,000 foot access road from North St. Cost was an attraction when FASNY bought the Ridgeway Country Club property at a fire sale price because the club was close to bankruptcy.
With the club a financial ruin, FASNY thought it could roll into Gedney Farms and be welcomed like General Charles de Gaulle when Paris was liberated in World War II. Funny thing about that — expectations are often greater than the outcome. FASNY embarked on its journey by buying the property at record speed and without the necessary due diligence. That this ignorance about the environmentally sensitive property it bought, and its residential location, is now causing FASNY financial indigestion, is solely FASNY’s problem, not White Plains’ problem. Caveat Emptor!
Funding is cited as a reason why some of the earlier construction plans for Phase I, proposed to begin in the fall of 2014, will be delayed until Phase II, which is scheduled to be completed no later than 2025. This incredibly long time frame, to which Gedney Farms residents will be subjected, is due to FASNY’s need to replenish its finances between Phases.
Previously, when FASNY’s ability to pay for the entire project was questioned, FASNY blew off the concern, saying that as a non-profit, it did not have to provide financials.
Because of this refusal to reveal whether it was financially sound, FASNY continued unimpeded and we now face the possibility that once started, financial deficits could result in the inability of FASNY to complete the proposed project. This would be a disaster for White Plains, Gedney Farms and, of course, FASNY.
Despite the fact that FASNY has obtained a $60 million dollar loan guarantee from the French Government, that sum is not enough money to complete the bloated project. FASNY needs at least another $20 million and possibly more. At this point, it has only raised $3.5 million, which is far below its needs.
That explains why it is searching for a Director of Development, whose main job will be fund raising. FASNY will no doubt be very aggressive in this pursuit. Since financing the entire project appears to be a serious problem, wouldn’t a reduction in the size of the buildings to reflect the lower enrollment, help alleviate the money issue? Increasing the square footage is illogical.
Money is also cited as a cause for possible delays in implementing Stage II of the proposed Conservancy restoration. FASNY previously stated, and continues to state, that a number of its “aspirational” plans will have to wait for funding as well as approvals from NYSDEC and the City of White Plains.
The funding may never arrive, and I don’t see how the Common Council can force FASNY to raise the funds for Stage II. It is also possible that the needed approvals may not be granted. Reaching into a bag of fairy dust and sprinkling it around will not result in aspirations being realized. Stage II could be put on the back burner permanently.
The Conservancy Master Plan spells out Stage 2 Implementation on page 14, and is shown below.
“The following elements of the Conservancy may be implemented over time as funding becomes available:
. Wetland habitat restoration adjacent to the large pond and in the southeastern corner of Parcel D, subject to grant funding and NYSDEC permitting.
. Stream restoration on Parcel C and on Parcel D conducted in coordination with any wetland habitat restoration and subject to grant funding and potential NYSDEC permitting.
. Construction of an observation deck and/or pier in the large pond could be pursued subject to available funding and NYSDEC and City of White Plains permitting. FASNY believes that the observation deck and/or pier would be an opportunity to enhance the educational value of the large pond and associated wetlands.
. Construction of a wetland boardwalk and outlook for educational interpretation of the wetland covering the southeastern portion of Parcel D could be pursued subject to available funding and NYSDEC and City of White Plains permitting. FASNY believes that a wetland boardwalk and outlook area would be an opportunity to enhance the educational value of the forested wetlands area.
. Construction of a propagation greenhouse on Parcel D.
. Construction of a shade structure on Parcel D.”
All the stipulations in this section of the Conservancy Master Plan give FASNY the perfect excuse not to fulfill its “aspirational” promises.
A Neighborhood in Jeopardy
The one thing about the FASNY project that has not changed from the outset is that it is still the wrong project in the wrong place. Here are some of the reasons:
. It so obviously does not fit in with the character of the neighborhood.
. It will exacerbate traffic on the North St. corridor and still bring traffic to Ridgeway.
. Our own students’ safety will be compromised by this traffic.
. Its outsize plan will harm fragile and environmentally sensitive land.
. Its economic benefits are vastly overstated.
. It will contribute to an increase in real estate taxes because FASNY is tax-exempt.
. It is already harming property values in Gedney Farms.
. The majority of Gedney Farms and its neighbors in southern White Plains are dead set
against the proposed project.
This litany of reasons should make you realize that the requested Special Permits must be denied. To do otherwise would leave the leaders of this City’s government with the unwelcome legacy of having presided over irreparable damage to historic Gedney Farms.
August 11, 2014