Correspondent: Time to Bid Adieu to FASNY

WPCNR LETTER TICKER. September 29, 2014:

The following sent to the Mayor by a resident of Ridgeway singles out alleged errors in the French American School of New York justifications for its project of proposed campus on the former Ridgeway Country Club.

The hearings on the Hathaway Lane closure and Site Plan Special Permit resume this evening at City Hall at 6:30 P.M. The hearings will be televised at 6:30 P.M. on Channels 75, Cablevision, and Channel 44, Verizon FIOS.

The public is not allowed to speak, but may continue to send comments on the proposal for 10 days, according to the City Clerk. The President of the Gedney Association, John Sheehan notes that the Council could close the hearing(s) this evening or leave them open. The Common Council, as the Mayor has previously said will be asking questions of the applicant.

 

Dear Mayor

“In June 2011, I wrote my first letter to you.  It began by stating that “the audacity and arrogance of the French-American School of New York just takes my breath away.”  Over these long three plus years, it still does.  The latest example of FASNY’s attitude is its vituperative response to the Board of Education’s well-thought out letter unanimously rejecting the FASNY proposal due to traffic and student safety issues.  In the alternate universe of FASNY WORLD, FASNY is always right and anyone who disagrees is always wrong.  In this case, FASNY revealed its audacity and arrogance by stating that the Board’s opposition to the North St. access driveway to the school “showed a lack of substantive analysis of FASNY’s driveway and student busing plans and appeared based on conjecture rather than facts.”

How dare FASNY accuse our Board of Education, with all its expertise and years of hands-on experience running the White Plains School System and bus transportation program, of basing its opinion on “conjecture rather than facts.”  It is FASNY’s transportation plan that is based on “conjecture rather than facts.”  I am tired of FASNY’s temper tantrums. FASNY’s plan consists of computer modeling, projections and video simulations. How does this pass for facts?  As the saying goes, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.  If I were grading the FASNY response, I would give it an F.

I don’t want to belabor the points that have been made to you in hundreds of letters.  However, there are still some that I would like to touch on.

Traffic and Safety.

1.  How did FASNY conclude that the Hutchinson River Parkway is the preferred route to the proposed school, when everyone knows it is not, and why did it promote this falsehood?

2. It is absolutely untrue that only about 40 vehicles will use Ridgeway to get to the North St. entrance.

a)  School buses will use Ridgeway because they are not permitted on the HRP

b)  Parents will avoid the HRP due to the notorious traffic delays, and most will end up on Ridgeway.

3.  The area road network has insufficient capacity to support the project’s expected vehicular generation.  Attorney Zarin claims that the TMP will improve traffic on North St.  Dumping the FASNY traffic onto this already overburdened street, will have the opposite affect.  See Board of Education letter.

4.  Students, their families, staff and the operations of the White Plains Schools would be significantly impacted by FASNY’s operations at the site.  See Board of Education letter.

Character of the Neighborhood.

1.  It is hypocritical to reference the Comprehensive Plan when talking about saving open space, but ignoring its guidelines when the subject of preserving the character of the neighborhood is raised.

2.  The project is not in harmony with the zoning plan for the area and is not harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood by reason of size, location, and character.

a) The architectural design of the buildings, which are barracks-like and institutional, as well as the building material, is not in keeping with area residences.

b) The buildings will dominate the field of view, even with landscaping. The scattered parking lots are appropriate for a shopping center, not a residential neighborhood.

3.  Though the project “clusters” the proposed school campus, clustering, as described in the Comprehensive Plan, is meant for the lowest possible density housing, not institutions and campuses.  FASNY has not demonstrated that it is inherently compatible with the appropriate development of the surrounding residential community. (See Cornell vs. Bagnardi)

4. Per the 1997 Comprehensive Plan and 2006 update, as spelled out in e. 1997 Strategies Updated to 2006, (p. II-I-62): “Limit intrusions or expansions by institutional uses other than religious institutions in the Outer Area neighborhoods, particularly with reference to traffic and on-site parking impacts.”

(FASNY)Attorney Zarin repeatedly says that there are other institutions located in the area, i.e., Gedney Farms. He is totally mischaracterizing the facts. RidgewayAllianceChurch, Westchester Hills, and the Woman’s Club are the only institutions located within Gedney Farms. The rest are on the periphery, not in the heart of Gedney Farms. That is a very great difference.

Hathaway Lane

1.  Why wasn’t Hathaway Lane a problem for FASNY when the proposed entrance was on Ridgeway?

2.  Why is an untried emergency access for interior Gedney Farms deemed acceptable, even when residents’ safety would be jeopardized because of increased response time?  Why are White Plains residents less important to this City than FASNY?

3.  Residents of Hathaway Lane deny that there have been complaints for years about the use of this street by “cut thru” traffic.  This is a community street, used by the community.  What is wrong with that?  If FASNY cannot offer proof of its claim, then these are just empty words used to bolster its attempt to hijack the only direct north/south link from Ridgeway to Bryant, through discontinuance and private eminent domain.

Conservancy

1.  Is it acceptable that the proposed access road from North St., which is 3,000 ft. long (over ½ mile) and 24 ft. wide, comes perilously close to the White Plains 100-foot wetlands buffer, NYSDEC registered Wetlands G-7, and the headwaters of a branch of the Mamaroneck River, which flows into Long Island Sound?  The road will be made of impervious material, which will allow runoff from vehicles and snow and ice treatment, to leach into the most environmentally sensitive areas of Parcel D, including the ponds.

2.  Did White Plains accept FASNY at face value that no part of this environmentally sensitive property came under the regulatory jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?  Would that explain why ACE was the only governmental agency not specifically included under “Requested Approvals” in the City’s letter of notification under SEQR, dated 8/07/12, regarding public hearings scheduled for the FASNY DEIS?  If so, didn’t White Plains fail in its due diligence?  Why didn’t FASNY consultant AKRF, follow up with ACE?  In its letter of 5/25/11, AKRF wrote:

“We understand that the wetlands on the eastern portion of the property (e.g., NYSDEC Wetland G-7) are not part of an altered system and would be subject to Corps regulatory jurisdiction.”

In its letter of 6/24/11, AKRF stated:  “Our goal is to confirm the regulatory status of the project site and to obtain a letter of non-jurisdiction from your office for the land area that would be disturbed by the proposed project.”  It never referenced the wetlands on the eastern portion of the property.  ACE says that there was no follow-up and the agency thought the project was dead.

3.  Meadow restoration plan.  How can you restore something that was never there?  Until it was cleared, this land was forest, not meadow.

Factual Accuracy

1.  If FASNY’s experts can’t even get the history of the Ridgeway Country Club right, why should we have confidence that more important and complex data are correct?  In its various submissions or letters, when citing the history of Ridgeway, FASNY or its consultants, repeatedly and erroneously stated that it was founded in 1910, 1912, or 1913, as part of the Gedney Farm Hotel.  None of this is correct.

Even worse, they confused the Ridgeway history with the Westchester Hills history.   Founded in 1913 as Gedney Farm Country Club, the predecessor of Westchester Hills Golf Club permitted guests of the Hotel to use its course, for a small fee.   In 2013, Westchester Hills celebrated its centennial.   The predecessor of Ridgeway, Gedney Farm Golf Club, was founded in 1923, one year before the Gedney Farm Hotel was destroyed by a devastating fire.  It was renamed Ridgeway Country Club when it was bought in 1952.  If I can google that information and get it right, why can’t FASNY’s expert consultants?

2.  Here is some hilarity I found in the SWPPP about Design Point#6.  Something changed between the first reference on page 13 (pdf 19) and the second reference on page 39 (pdf page 45):  First reference:  “Design Point #6 is the point where an existing watercourse exits the site along the western boundary.”  Second reference:  “Design Point #6 is the point where an existing water course exits the site along the western boundary behind the Cedarmere Museum.”   What???

So I googled Cedarmere Museum and found out that it is located in the Village of Roslyn Harbor in Long Island.  It is 172 acres and is the former estate of William Cullen Bryant, the famous publisher who died in 1878.  Its address is 225 Bryant Ave. Google shows it in White Plains, with a 516 area code.  It even pinpoints it on a map showing Bryant Ave. in White Plain, and locates it between Hathaway Lane and Bryant Crescent on Parcel C.  How could the expert consultants not have known that there was something very wrong here?  There is a 225 Bryant Ave. in White Plains at the location shown on the map.  It is a single family residence, not a museum on 172 acres.  Now we know that Google is not infallible, and neither is the consultant, who did not catch this ludicrous error.  Maybe it is only one error in hundreds or thousands of pages.  But what if it isn’t?

3.  FASNY refers people to its Greens to Green Conservancy website, which despite the many major changes to the project’s plans, is still pitching the original details, including campus layout, architecture based on the existing clubhouse, student enrollment, campus acreage, Ridgeway entrance, and construction start and finish date.

In addition, it still shows the idyllic renderings of the Conservancy, minus the access road which cuts through it, and the original acreage, and still says that there will be three gravel parking lots, not two.   FASNY invites visitors to the site to:  “Please browse through the website for detailed information about the strategic planning for this major new asset and amenity for White Plains.  We will update the website with additional information as the programmatic planning for this unique new environment progresses.”

The only update is the listing of the newest members of the Common Council.  That was important enough to prompt FASNY to make an update. Important factual information, not so much.  To me, this raises the question of FASNY follow through on all types of matters.  FASNY’s priorities and our priorities are not in synch.

4.  FASNY plays games with numbers.  Here is one example that I consider particularly egregious.  In trying to deflect criticism of its tax-exempt status, FASNY has said that the loss of the $278,000 property tax paid by Ridgeway in its last year, costs White Plains’ tax payers only $5 dollars a year.  How did it come up with this formula?  Conservancy FAQS on its website explains it this way: “The simple math is $278,000 divided by 56,000 White Plains residents = $5 per resident per year on average.”  We have heard about the $5 at several public hearings.  The trouble with this trickery is that while White Plains does have a population of about 56,000 people, they don’t all pay property taxes because they rent or they are children.  So dividing Ridgeway’s last year tax payment by the City’s total population is DISHONEST and insults our intelligence.

How is FASNY Doing?

Most of the City departments asked to comment on the FASNY Site Plan and its request

to discontinue Hathaway Lane, have written negative reviews, finding fault with many aspects of the proposed project.  The one outlier appears to be the Design Review Board.  My question to the Common Council is how many bites of the apple do you plan to give FASNY, either because you are legally required to do so, or you desire to do so?   There is so much wrong with the proposal, that you would surely need at least a bushel basket of apples, or perhaps an entire apple orchard, to allow FASNY to keep pursuing its goal.  Your answer will resonate with the public.

By now you must know that many of your constituents believe that you are prepared to abandon them to support an ill-conceived and disastrous FASNY project.  This would be a monumental betrayal.  Here is a quote from About White Plains, on the White Plains website:

 

Neighborhoods:  Top Quality Suburban Living.  “White Plains has thriving neighborhoods with well-established identities and a traditional suburban feel that belie their proximity to the downtown urban center.  The City offers numerous parks and recreational facilities and a large variety of recreational programming for pre-schoolers through active older adults.  Its schools are well-regarded and provide top quality education and services to a large and diverse student population…”

This says it all.  White Plains does not need FASNY!

At least a dozen neighborhood associations have come out in opposition to the FASNY project.  Exactly zero neighborhood associations have come out in support of the FASNY project.   The message is loud and clear.  A very large number of White Plains citizens do not approve of FASNY’s proposed regional school.  These are your constituents and they are telling you to vote no for the Special Permit and Hathaway Lane discontinuance.  It is incumbent upon you to do just that.

Respectfully,

Ellen Alzerez

September 29, 2014

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