|April 14, 2017The Common Council
City of White Plains
255 Main Street
White Plains, New York 10601Dear Members of the Common Council:The latest events concerning FASNY’s unrelenting efforts to build a regional school complex in the south end of the City raise very serious legal questions. Let’s review the facts:
- In 2013 the Common Council found the entire former Ridgeway Country Club as an environmentally sensitive site. In fact, the City went out of its way to say that each of the parcels were environmentally sensitive;
- In September of 2016 The Common Council in a split 4 to 3 vote agreed to a Stipulation of Agreement to review yet another FASNY plan in which the school development would be on Parcel A and as part of that review consider removing that parcel as an environmentally sensitive site. The Agreement said the Common Council would “determine whether the Alternative Plan is or involves any ‘Environmentally Sensitive Site or Feature’ as defined in Section 2.4 of the City Zoning Ordinance”.
- In the Fall of 2016 the Gedney Association engaged an environmental specialist who submitted a report on November 30, 2016 confirming that the Parcel was an “Environmentally Sensitive Site” under the City’ regulations.
- Over three months passed when on March 10, 2017 FASNY’s attorney sent a letter to the Mayor and Common Council complaining about the Gedney Association’s report and unbelievably said “Such a determination would undermine one of the essential premises of the Stipulation of Agreement that FASNY’s limitation on its reduced Alternative School Plan to Parcel A would require only a majority vote”. There is absolutely nothing in the Stipulation that even remotely suggests this. The letter suggests some sort of “private deal” hatched by the parties secretly which we all know is not legal and requires further investigation regardless of the outcome of the Common Council decision.
- Three days later on March 10, 2017 Commissioner of Planning Gomez sent a memorandum to the Common Council confirming that Parcel A was indeed an Environmentally Sensitive Site.
- On March 15, 2017 the Common Council voted that Parcel A was indeed an Environmentally Sensitive Site. On the night of the Meeting the Roach administration released two reports prepared for the City confirming the site’s Environmentally Sensitive Site designation. These reports were dated November 28, 2016 and February 16, 2017 but not released until that night. These reports should have made public months ago.
- Lastly, FASNY’s lawyer keeps referring to Scenic Hudson’s two page letter supporting FASNY’s argument that the stream in question is a ditch. I personally spoke to a signer of the Scenic Hudson letter who said they never inspected the site which is an essential requirement of any such analysis. I should also note that the Chair of the French American School Andrea Soros Columbel is on the Advisory Board of Scenic Hudson. Another surprise.
The other significant and frankly bizarre modification in the new plan is the proposed use of Ridgeway. In December of 2013 the Common Council in its Environmental Findings resolution was emphatic in stating:
- “The potential significant adverse impacts on public infrastructure of the MPP/Ridgeway as proposed cannot be mitigated” (Finding H-13)
- “None of the Ridgeway access mitigation measures address the unmitigated significant adverse impact that full access to the project Site from Ridgeway and Hathaway Lane has on the role of Ridgeway as a Collector Street, not as an arterial roadway, as identified in the City’s Comprehensive Plan”. ( Finding J-8)
- In a report dated November 2012 Sue Habel former City Planning Commissioner cited the following adverse impacts in using Ridgeway:
- Impacts on the operation of Ridgeway as a Collector road;
- Impacts to traffic flow into and out of the downtown on both North Street and Mamaroneck Avenue due to signal timing and adjustments;
- Impacts to pedestrians using Ridgeway which does not have sidewalks along its length from the Proposed Project to North Street.
- Impacts on local neighborhood streets due to cut-through traffic to avoid congestion on the major arterial streets and particularly on Ridgeway during AM and PM drop-off and pick-up periods.
The latest FASNY plan actually increases the student population for the middle and high school from 478 in May of 2014 to now 640. Our traffic engineer points out that FASNY has made various errors in the basic math calculations and in their own assumptions and therefore their estimates of peak hour morning traffic are off by 23.9%. Also, FASNY estimates that there will be 1.65 students per car. Why did they not use a more reliable indicator such as actual experience of the German school with 1.30 students per car, a difference of 21.2%.
The key finding of our traffic engineer is that the new FASNY Plan “presents multiple safety hazards”. In her report she states “Unrestricted access to multiple minor streets in the immediate area will result in innumerable safety hazards that cannot be mitigated without changing the nature and character of the affected neighborhoods.” Our fire safety expert, states that “The FASNY proposal will lead to significant increases in fire response time from Fire Station 7 to a substantial part of the Gedney Farm neighborhood north of Ridgeway”.
Simply put, Ridgeway was not designed to accommodate this volume of traffic. It is a narrow, curvy road with sharp changes in grade. There is only one lane in each direction with no shoulder. In total there are 98 streets, driveways, and other access drives that intersect with it from Old Mamaroneck Road to North Street. The truth is, with anticipated congestion on Ridgeway, the local narrow streets in Gedney, Rosedale and Reynal Park will become the cut-through streets of choice for FASNY cars. FASNY’s proposal to restrict its access to Ridgeway is laughable but for the supposed seriousness that it was put forth.
The existing road network in this area is like “Swiss Cheese”. The streets in these neighborhoods were constructed close to 100 years ago before the advent of subdivision road specifications relating to width and configuration. In more recent years cul-de-sac design was implemented to avoid cut-through traffic. Besides the substandard width these streets have no sidewalks. The street network would make it very easy for drivers to funnel through these neighborhood streets to access the school, thereby creating hazardous conditions which will undeniably put our children, pedestrians and cyclists in danger.
Attached is a street map of the immediate area surrounding the former golf course property. Streets in Gedney, Rosedale and Reynal Park all have cut-through streets that will induce FASNY drivers to use them when Ridgeway gets congested as it inevitably will. The streets that will be primary cut-through streets are outlined in orange. Please note the number of homes that line these streets. Also, please note the five schools outlined in red that are already situated in this area. Note that the existing schools all front on arterial roads except Ridgeway which is defined as a local collector street in the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Also, please note the three key intersections indicated in blue (North Street/Ridgeway, Mamaroneck/Ridgeway and Old Mamaroneck Road/Ridgeway). All have current operating deficiencies with Mamaroneck Ave/Ridgeway being classified as a high accident intersection.
The Council should never have considered reopening this application. It is now clear that the obvious effort of the Stipulation was to crassly bypass the super-majority vote requirement for environmentally sensitive sites. It is a disgrace and disrespectful of the entire review process. The holding back of expert studies commissioned by the City confirming Parcel A as an environmentally sensitive site (ESS) until just before the Council Meeting casts a further cloud on the process.
In conclusion, the manner in which the entire ESS matter was handled was inappropriate to say the least. FASNY somehow persuaded the Roach Administration and Council members Kirkpatrick, Smayda and Martin to revisit the ESS issue that had been decided in December of 2013. In fact, FASNY itself accepted the 2013 Environmental Findings and identified the watercourse as a “stream” in their FEIS submission. It was only after The Gedney Association submitted an environmental assessment from an expert that FASNY commenced their frivolous PR campaign calling the stream a “ditch”.
Reconsideration of Ridgeway follows the same pattern. What was determined by the Common Council as an unacceptable access road to the FASNY is now being revisited. None of the concerns raised in 2013 are different and use of Ridgeway and Hathaway Lane present innumerable and serious safety hazards for residents in the affected neighborhoods.
The traffic dangers posed by the FASNY plan, combined with environmental issues, incompatibility with the City’s zoning regulations and Comprehensive Plan plus the overwhelming opposition of White Plains residents should convince you once again of the unacceptability of the FASNY application.
Very truly yours,
John E. Sheehan, President
The Gedney Association’
(Editor’s Note: The following letter comments on the French American School of New York request for approval of a Special Permit and Site Plan to build a 7-building school campus on the former Ridgeway Country Club. The matter is expected to be scheduled for a vote in late May or June by the White Plains Common Council. For the record, the French American School of New York, contests that figures supplied by the Gedney Association Traffic Consultant mentioned in the above letter are not correct during an interview on White Plains Television “People to be Heard” recorded April 12, which can be seen at www.whiteplainsweek.com )