The Last Word: Gedney Association President: The Case for Denying FASNY BUILD.

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WPCNR SOUTH END TIMES. From John Sheehan, President, The Gedney Association. September 13, 2014:

John Sheehan was the last speaker Wednesday evening when the site plan/special permit hearing on the French American School of New York plan to build a five-building complex on the former Ridgeway Country Club site suspended public comment and adjourned to September 29,

Mr. Sheehan eloquentely summed up the reasons why his neighborhood association feels the city should not approve the application.

Here are his remarks:

I am here tonight to discuss and comment on FASNY’s application for a Special Permit and Site Plan approval. 

 

First let me comment on some things that became very clear Monday night:

  1. 1.                 FASNY acknowledged that property values have indeed declined;
  2. 2.                 The overwhelming comments from residents of White Plains, not having an affiliation with FASNY or someone connected with FASNY, were against approval of a Special Permit for the property.  Remember over 2,000 residents and  voters from all corners of White Plains earlier signed a petition rejecting the FASNY plan;
  3. 3.                 The Army Corps of Engineers has entered into the FASNY application process despite comments from some that this has been resolved. 

The effect on property value is a required consideration in your decision.  Mr. Botti of FASNY recognized the serious drop in property values in the neighborhood but dismissed this citing “uncertainty”.  Its seems to me as a real estate consultant that this argument is not logical. If I am a potential buyer in the neighborhoods near the property and assessing the situation there are two possibilities: either FASNY gets approved or it does not.  If it does not it will be developed residentially or remain as a golf course.  If not, the school would be built.  The former was always true and historically has not hurt property values.  So it is reasonable to assume that the clear reason for the significant diminution in home values is that most buyers believe the regional school complex would be a negative condition in the ownership of a home there.

FASNY’s requires a Special Permit because the use they propose is not permitted as a matter of right but only with the issuance of a Special Permit.

The City’s zoning ordinance provides clear and unambiguous standards that have to be met:

Section 6.51 clearly states “The location and size of the special permit “use”, the nature and intensity of the operations involved in it or conducted in connection with it, the size of the site in relation to it and the location of the site with respect to “streets” giving access to it are such that it will be in harmony with the appropriate an orderly development of the area in which it is located.”

Furthermore, Section 6.53 states “Operations in connection with any special permit “use” will not be more objectionable to nearby properties by reason of noise, traffic, fumes, vibration or other characteristics than would be the operations of permitted “uses not requiring a special permit.”

The use permitted in the zone is single family homes on parcels of at least 30,000 square feet.  Who could say with a straight face that the FASNY project with 950 students and 250 staff in 262,000 square feet of buildings surrounded by a sea of parking lots is in harmony with the neighborhood? Who could seriously argue that the vehicular traffic it will generate will not be more objectionable to single-family homes on 30,000 square foot lots?

Its interesting that the environmental findings resolution does not mention these standards – obviously done so as not to identify restrictions that would prohibit this planned development.

May I also remind the Common Council that colleges are not permitted in this zone.  Who would deny that the density and scale of the FASNY project is not more similar to a college?

Also the clustering of school buildings and parking lots are not permitted in the zone.”

 

These standards in the zoning ordinance are your standards and the Common Council must adhere to them.

 

The City’s Comprehensive Plan also does not support the type of use proposed by FASNY.  It clearly states:

“If not economically viable to maintain the golf courses in private club ownership, the Plan’s preferred scenario is preservation of the golf courses through other, private, quasi-public or public means”

If the courses cannot be maintained as golf courses then  the “Plan envisions residential development at the City’s lowest residential density, clustered to preserve open space and environmental features and providing public and quasi-public areas including trailways linked to the City’s open space network”.

The Comprehensive Plan is very clear:

  • If a golf course is no longer feasible the use should be residential;
  • The density should be at the lowest residential density.

A few other key points:

  1. 1.      The neighborhood surrounding the property already has more land dedicated to institutional or non-profit use than private homes.  The saturation point has already been reached;

 

  1. 2.      A study done by The Institute of Traffic Engineers found that private schools generate double the amount of traffic than a public high  school.  Was this or others studies ever considered or was every projection based on guesses and studies done when other schools were not in session;

 

  1. 3.      FASNY’s traffic study indicated that with the North Street entrance and the so-called Traffic Management Plan traffic on Ridgeway would be reduced by 89% or go from 292 vehicles to only 42 vehicles in the morning peak period.   They further stated that much of the reduction would be attributable to cars and buses using the Hutchinson River Parkway.   No mention was made that standard school buses are not permitted on the parkway. Even more incredible was that the FASNY study never considered that traffic is congested every weekday on the parkway from the Cross County Parkway to I-287 in both morning knowledge, including the City’s traffic engineer and the City and afternoon peak periods.  In fact, it’s common Police Department that cars travelling to New York or to I-287 on the parkway leave the parkway and use Rosedale Avenue and other local streets as a short-cut to avoid the traffic congestion.  Yet we are to believe that cars and buses coming from Larchmont and Mamaroneck will do the opposite, leave local roads to sit in traffic on the parkway.  In fact, FASNY buses and cars will use local roads like the Scarsdale bypass to Ridgeway or come up Mamaroneck Avenue to Ridgeway.  Ridgeway is not designed for this or intended to be used as an arterial road but only as a local collector road but that’s where the vehicles would unquestionably go if not on even more local streets.
  1. 4.      The intersections at Mamaroneck Avenue and Ridgeway and Bryant Avenue and North Street currently operate at unsatisfactory Levels of Service according to City records.  I might add that both the White Plains High School and Ridgeway Elementary School are situated at these intersections yet no mention of this was made of these serious conditions by any Council members in the environmental review.

Why is the Common Council listening to this FASNY gibberish when your own traffic consultant’s findings were entirely different. The City’s traffic consultant, TRC said “Access from North Street reduces “some” of the Project impacts along Ridgeway.”  The TRC report furthermore stated “that it will alsosomewhat” reduce project traffic at the intersection of Mamaroneck Avenue and Ridgeway.”  The TRC report never said that this new entrance would measurably or significantly reduce traffic on Ridgeway or a ridiculous 89% as FASNY purports.

With regard to the so-called busing management plan the TRC report raises the same doubts.  It states that “there are several uncertainties about the actual trip generation and bus utilization and there could be significant fluctuations in these numbers which could result in significant additional traffic impacts” and furthermore that “the number of buses and bus occupancy could vary significantly”.  It’s totally unenforceable and likely to collapse since school districts are abandoning the funding for it.

Remember this was the City’s traffic consultant’s report yet the findings resolution and everything thereafter cites FASNY’s numbers and analysis  which frankly are not worthy of serious consideration.

One last comment with regard to FASNY’s consultant saying they identified every watercourse on the property.  This is absolutely not true.  There is a labyrinth of streams on the property, most having been covered. One of the most glaring omissions is the stream emptying into Westchester Hills from Ridgeway.  FASNY’s consultants did not identify this stream until a few hundred yards down Westchester Hills property despite it being in clear view at Ridgeway.  Interestingly, this culverted stream is directly under the portion of the property where FASNY hopes to erect its high school.

The environmental findings this Council made in December very clearly required FASNY to resolve certain issues most specifically with regard to the  Traffic Management Plan prior to any Special Permit approval.  I am especially mindful of the very specific comments by Council members Martin and Krolian.  It is now evident that these questions have not be resolved nor could they be resolved and therefore the application must be denied.

Recently, a supporter of FASNY wrote a letter warning residents that the FASNY plan would preserve much open space while residential development would not.  I beg to differ.  The 3,000 foot entrance road eviscerates much of the so-called conservancy.  Also, as a former Assistant Town Planner in Greenwich, Connecticut we successfully developed a conservation zone for large properties worthy of protection.  In essence, the zone would require a minimum of 40% of the land permanently protected as open space.  In return the residential lots could drop down to one-half the lot size in the zone.  In this case, you would have 15,000 square foot lots instead of 30,000 square foot.  Importantly, you would not be permitted any density greater than a conventional subdivision after deducting, ponds, watercourses, steep slopes and subdivision roads.

Members of the Common Council listen to your zoning ordinance and its clear standards for Special Permit approval.  Listen to the Comprehensive Plan that was put together by hundreds of our residents.  Listen to your own traffic consultant’s report.  Listen to your Planning Board which unanimously did not approve of the closure of Hathaway Lane.  Listen to Lynn Oliva of the Planning Board, formerly the highly regarded Commisssioner of Planning for Westchester County when she strongly challenged the basis for the traffic findings of FASNY.  Listen to the Court of Appeals of the State of New York which said clearly said “educational and religious uses which would unarguably be contrary to the public’s health, safety or welfare need not be permitted at all”.   Lastly, listen to you constituents who overwhelmingly oppose this application for a Special Permit.  

Thirty years from now all of you will be gone from public service – the pressures pushing you for approval will be long gone – do what is right to protect our residential neighborhoods and hopefully White Plains will continue as a balanced City of an active downtown surrounded by beautiful and safe neighborhoods.

 

 

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