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Letter to the Editor: FASNY Would Not Benefit White Plains

Why the French-American School's proposed development is bad for all of White Plains.

Editor's Note: This Letter to the Editor is from the Gedney Association. 

Dear Neighbor:

The French-American School of New York (FASNY) plans to build a massive regional educational complex on the former Ridgeway Country Club site.

FASNY has embarked upon a major public relations campaign to convince the City that this development is good for White Plains. Unfortunately, this is not true.

FASNY will cause a significant, permanent financial drain on the City. It is tax-exempt and would pay no property or school taxes, and would require municipal services for which White Plains taxpayers will pay. In addition, FASNY will create massive traffic problems throughout the south end of the City.

FASNY’s legal and public relations teams have spread misleading information suggesting that it is the only viable alternative for the property, that approval of its plans is a “done deal”, and that its Conservancy will offset the many negative aspects of its plans. Again, this is not true.

We believe that it is essential that you have the facts about this development, and that our Common Council makes an informed decision on a project that would harm both the surrounding neighborhoods and the City as a whole.

Background of FASNY Development

In early 2011, FASNY purchased the former Ridgway Country Club property. FASNY paid $8.5 million for the property and will pay the Club an additional $2.5 million if it obtains a special permit to develop the property. FASNY must obtain a special permit because current zoning only permits residential use of the property. The FASNY plan violates the 1997 Comprehensive Plan and its 2006 update, which envision a golf course, or homes on ¾ acre plots, on this site.

As a not-for-profit entity, FASNY will pay no property tax or sales tax to White Plains.

FASNY currently has about 850 students, and proposes an increase in White Plains to about 1,200 students. It also estimates about 250 staff members. It is a private school with tuition ranging from about $22,000 to nearly $26,000. FASNY plans to build four large buildings (three school buildings and a gym/performing arts building), 5 athletic fields, a running track and tennis courts. The school complex will cover approximately 46 acres of the site. The plans call for a large access road on the property, and nearly 500 parking spots. FASNY also proposes a publicly accessible nature Conservancy on the rest of the property.

The Common Council will rule upon FASNY’s application. FASNY recently submitted its Draft Environmental Impact Scoping Statement (DEIS), which the Common Council must then review and act upon. The process will take several months, if not years. Contrary to FASNY’s suggestions, its plan is not a done deal.

FASNY will impose a significant financial burden on all White Plains taxpayers

As a tax-exempt entity, FASNY will pay no taxes but will use extensive municipal services that your tax dollars will cover. 

FASNY will cause your taxes to rise and your municipal services to be cut because FASNY will pay no taxes to White Plains. It will not pay for extensive municipal services such as fire, police, and sanitation services. The taxpayers of White Plains will bear these costs. By contrast, in its last year of operation, Ridgeway Country Club paid over $600,000 per year in property and sales taxes to White Plains.

White Plains has seen large property tax increases every year. Property taxes have gone up 25.6% over the last five years, and 74.7% over the last ten years. White Plains has also experienced major cuts in schools and municipal services. In the proposed 2012 budget, the City is eliminating 16 unfilled positions on top of the 74 unfilled positions and 86 filled jobs that have been cut since the end of 2009.

In this environment, does FASNY benefit White Plains financially?  The answer is “no”. White Plains will have to spend more to provide services to FASNY, and you will pay more taxes and face further service cuts to support FASNY

FASNY will lower home values and property tax receipts from those homes

FASNY will decrease property values in the neighborhood surrounding the school due to additional traffic, pollution, noise and other negatives. This will hurt both the Gedney Farms neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods. Decreased property values will lead to a decreased tax base, as lower property values will lead to lower tax assessments and tax revenues. Other White Plains taxpayers will make up these losses, and City services may be cut even further.

FASNY will cause massive traffic problems throughout the surrounding area

Access to the school would be from two entrances on Ridgeway, across from Fairway Drive, and at Hathaway Lane. FASNY will add traffic signals at Fairway Drive and Hathaway Lane. FASNY estimates that over 2,200 vehicular trips will occur in peak hours. Many more trips will occur during evening and weekend hours, as will trips to the Conservancy. The peak hour trips alone will increase existing traffic volume on Ridgeway by well over 50%.

The traffic lights that FASNY will install on Ridgeway will cause massive back-ups on both Ridgeway and nearby streets, including North Street and Mamaroneck Avenue. In addition, traffic controls along Ridgeway from North Street to Old Mamaroneck road must be changed, and a new traffic light must be installed on the southbound Hutchinson River Parkway entrance at Mamaroneck Avenue!

FASNY will cause traffic to cut through local streets as drivers bypass Ridgeway during peak hours. When traffic backs up on Ridgeway, drivers will cut though side streets off on the routes that FASNY vehicles will take from surrounding towns.

FASNY's supposed economic benefits are wildly exaggerated and will not overcome the economic harm it will cause

Knowing that it will impose a significant financial burden on White Plains, FASNY claims that it will bring financial benefits to the City. This is simply not true.

Claim: FASNY claims it will bring $15.4 ml a year in spending to White Plains.

Fact:  This supposed benefit would start in 2024/2025, over a decade from now!

 

Claim: 30% of its families will live in White Plains a decade from now.

Fact: This is sheer speculation, as less that 5% of its families now live in White Plains.

 

Claim: FASNY families and staff will benefit White Plains by personal spending.

Fact: This does not account for the loss of spending by current residents which FASNY families and staff would replace. FASNY will not build new homes in White Plains – their families would simply purchase or rent existing homes and would merely replace the spending that is lost when a current family moves out.

 

Claim: FASNY will provide an annual benefit of over $1.0 ml in sales and property taxes.

Fact:  Any FASNY families that move to White Plains would merely replace current residents who already pay school and sales taxes here.

 

Claim: FASNY will provide a benefit of $2.75 million to White Plains Public Schools. FASNY claims that the City will not spend money on FASNY students because its students would not attend our public schools.  

Fact: This is false: (1) many current White Plains families with school-age children send their children to private schools (2) many current White Plains families do not have school-age children.

There are viable alternatives to FASNY

You may hear FASNY claim that no realistic alternatives to its plans exist. This is simply not true. When FASNY bought the property, at least one golf course operator was willing to buy the property, and golf course operators remain interested in the property today.

Secondly, FASNY’S claim that the only alternative use is more than 80 homes is false. The property is environmentally sensitive and cannot support large-scale development. Experts indicate that only 30 to 40 homes could be built under current zoning, which requires ¾ acre plots. If the property is rezoned to one acre zoning, even fewer homes would be built.

Thirty to forty homes are a far better alternative for the property than FASNY. Homes will generate tax revenues for the City, and will have a minimal impact on traffic and the environment. Further, the City may negotiate with any home builder to provide open space on the site.

The FASNY Conservancy will not provide a significant benefit and will compound the harm that the school will cause

FASNY has been promoting its Conservancy without reference to the school complex next to the Conservancy. The school has become the “elephant in the room”, as FASNY would like you to forget that the real reason it is developing the property – its massive regional educational center. Further, FASNY is not obligated to create the Conservancy. FASNY characterizes the Conservancy as “aspirational" – this means that it is FASNY’s intent or hope, but is not a binding legal commitment. Further, FASNY will move forward only when funding is available and after certain phases of the project are completed in 2020. 

The vast majority of the property will remain as open space whether or not FASNY builds its educational complex. The City Comprehensive Plan calls for clustered residential housing, so homes would be concentrated in one area, and open space would remain on the rest of the land. Moreover, the property is environmentally sensitive, so only a small portion could be developed for any reason.

What you can do about FASNY

If FASNY builds its massive complex, White Plains will forever face a major financial drain, and major traffic problems. FASNY will change for the worse both the surrounding neighborhoods, and the City as a whole. Simply put, a city is destroyed one neighborhood at a time.

FASNY recently submitted studies from experts in its DEIS. FASNY has selected and paid these experts – they are on FASNY’s side. The City’s staff is very competent, but FASNY is only one of its many responsibilities. The Common Council should have its own experts to judge FASNY’s studies, and the law requires FASNY to help pay the cost of the City’s experts.

 

1. Tell the Council that you want it to retain experienced experts to help it make an informed decision.

 

2. Let the Council know that you have serious concerns about the financial, traffic and other burdens that FASNY will bring.


3. Write, e-mail or call Council members:

Mailing Address:

City Hall

255 Main Street

White Plains, NY 10601

 

Mayor Thomas M. Roach
914.946.8325
troach@whiteplainsny.gov

Hon. Benjamin Boykin II
914.328.7808
bboykin@whiteplainsny.gov

Hon. David Buchwald
914.831.3764
David.Buchwald@gmail.com

Hon. Dennis E. Krolian
   914-263-1020
dkrolian@whiteplainsny.gov

Hon. Milagros Lecuona
914.406.0048
milagroslecuona@gmail.com

Hon. John M. Martin
  914.686.0239
jmartin@whiteplainsny.gov

Hon. Beth N. Smayda
914.419.6891
bsmayda@bethsmayda.com

4. Follow ongoing developments at www.gedneyfarms.net 

 

Sincerely,

The Gedney Association

Board of Directors

Terence Guerriere

Yvonne Gumowitz

John Sheehan Garry Klein

Joseph L. DeMarzo Ellen Lee

Midge Sanchez Barbara Schwarz

Gaetano D’Antona Robert Stackpole

Anna Fagan

E.J. Lahrmann

 

Patch welcomes Letters to the Editor. To learn how to submit letters to Patch,  

Correction: This letter has been changed to reflect the correct website and a misspellling. 

wpRez June 14, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Hi Joan - WpRez the fraudster here. I know this is going to come across as rude and obnoxious - but I honestly don't mean to be. I'm just being honest here. To be blunt, I don't really care about your house, its value, or your golf course views or what you bargained for when you moved there. The shiny object (conservancy) I do care about. That is what I look forward to. If your view is destroyed it has no impact on my everyday life. Neither does the traffic as I work during the day and don't drive on those streets at the school traffic hours. I also live in the highlands, not far from Merrilee. Again, no impact on my everyday life. Whereas even if the school does the absolute, barebones minimum with the conservancy - even if they did nothing else but open their gate for me on the weekends, that has a positive impact on my life and I think the whole city. I will definitely utilize it with my family. I know I'm being selfish, but again, honest - and most people I've spoken to that don't live in Gedney Farms agree with what I said. That said, I do feel bad for you and perhaps would do the same if I were in your shoes. Your post is illustrative because it reveals that it is your own personal situation that is motivating you, and the idea that you're in this fight "for the good of the city" is nothing more than a sideshow for selling your cause to people outside the neighborhood. "Paula" demonstrated the same thing in her post. You need to get back on message.
wpRez June 14, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Meant to post this in the other thread - could be of interest to some here. On PBS a few nights ago, they had a show called "Treasures of NY" - and this episode was a documentary about Costas Kondylis - an architect that has built more than 70 buildings in NYC over the last few decades. Fascinating program - very well done - and fascinating guy. Many parts of it reminded me of this FASNY situation. Here's the link to the program in case anyone is interested: http://www.thirteen.org/treasures-of-ny/building-stories/
Joan's WP June 14, 2012 at 03:09 PM
wpRez, yes I do have skin in the game and mentioned a school behind my house to show that. But that doesn't mean that I can't see the whole picture for what it is, what it means for my entire neighborhood and what it means for the city. Let me make one thing clear, I do not have a view of the golf course greens. Not only are there some trees on the other side of my fence, but we planted screening trees when we moved in. So I have spent my time here gazing at greenery not greens. I am not going to address your being selfish since you have already explained how that is motivating you. However, as one neighborhood goes, so may another. If this development can happen in this residential neighborhood, it sets a precedent for all neighborhoods. If a developer wants to build in your neighborhood and you were against it, I would support you, not dismiss you.
wpRez June 14, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Joan - thanks for being civil. In any case, something is going to be developed there. Houses don't do me much good. Another golf course doesn't do me much good. Leaving the land empty and closed up for years doesn't do me much good. The school with conservancy is the only option (other than the city or county buying it) which seems to have any sort of positive impact on me. Even if the conservancy was half the size of what they're saying, and was nothing more than an empty field - that's still better than all the other options. Again, I don't mean to be selfish, but I'm giving you my honest perspective of someone that does not live in the neighborhood. I should note, that other members of my family do live in Gedney Farms and they are adamantly against the plan. This provides for some "lively" discussion at family get togethers.
ds455 June 18, 2012 at 04:17 PM
wpRez--as has been stated over and over, the open space must remain, because it is wetlands and CANNOT BE DEVELOPED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. As for your future enjoyment of the so-called Conservancy, read FASNY'S DEIS, in which they finally admit "that most usage would come from nearby residents who would be able to walk to the conservancy." Full disclosure: I live in the Gedney Farms neighborhood. Oh, and I have no view of the golf course -- for some reason, this seems to be of critical interest to many of the letter writers. Donn455

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