White Plains Common Council Divides a Neighborhood Over FASNY
By NANCY KING
It’s the project that has divided the City of White Plains and it looks like there is no end in sight as the south end of the city fights to keep the French American School of New York, also known as the Lycée Franco-Américain de New York, or FASNY, from constructing a campus on the grounds of the now defunct Ridgeway Country Club. On Monday night, September 8th, and again on Wednesday night, September 10th, over 700 people, both pro and con, packed the auditorium at White Plains High School to speak at two public hearings concerning FASNY. Monday night’s public hearing had over 65 people sign up to speak on the topic of FASNY’s request for a special permit to close and to de-map Hathaway Lane, a private residential street in Gedney Farms that runs along the border of the golf course. Most of the residents who addressed the White Plains Common Council had grave concerns about FASNY’s plan to de-map this street. A few people addressed the Common Council about the historical significance of the Gedney Farms neighborhood, and a few real estate agents talked about the already decreased property values that come with a semi-commercial development project as large as this one. Most residents however were more concerned about their safety once their street would be closed. Without access to Hathaway Lane from Bryant Avenue, the main road, those who live on Hathaway Lane and the ancillary streets would see a measurable lag in response time by emergency vehicles should they be needed. Police cars, ambulance services and fire trucks would have to snake their way through the other side streets in order to make it to Hathaway Lane.
Other neighborhood residents spoke about the impact of increased traffic and how that increase, especially during the morning drop off time and afternoon pick-up times would adversely change the neighborhood forever. The Gedney Farms neighborhood, where the French American School hopes to build their campus, has eight schools within a one-mile radius. Closing Hathaway Lane clogs those side streets with more kids at bus stops, more buses and more parents transporting their children to those schools in the neighborhood. Most of the families who have children attending FASNY live elsewhere, with a fair amount of students attending the school residing in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The people who spoke have a salient point; how much more traffic can those narrow, little winding streets absorb once Hathaway is closed?
FASNY supporters in turn claimed that traffic studies had been done and that there would be no increased traffic to the neighborhood. The problem with the dates of the traffic study however is that FASNY conducted their studies when the schools were out of session. No school in session – no traffic problems. Nonetheless, by 9:45 p.m., that portion of the hearing was closed and the Common Council had moved on to the topic of the special permit being requested to construct 6 school buildings. By 12:30 a.m., the 100 or so people left in attendance heard both pro and con perspectives. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit came from a representative of a group called EcoNeighbors. EcoNeighbors claimed that because of the environmental sensitivity concerning the estuaries of the Mamaroneck River, the site plan required a study from the Army Corps of Engineers. It was revealed right before the 12:30a.m. break that even though the plans had been requested by the Army Corps of Engineers, FASNY neither provided them nor the Common Council. In fact, neither entity urged FASNY to do so. The Army Corps of Engineers requested another copy of the plans back in July and is still awaiting those plans. Upon the receipt of those plans they intend to conduct a desk study and follow it up with an on-site study.
Wednesday night saw a continuation of the same meeting with many of the same comments made. As expected, the Common Council sat at a dais created atop the auditorium stage stone faced; 30 of the 36 speakers implored the Common Council to vote against the project. Former White Plains Mayor Al DelVecchio’s granddaughter read a letter begging the Common Council to vote down the project citing that White Plains has always been a city of “neighborhoods” and that the approval of the FASNY project in this neighborhood will likely lead to more commercial creep into other neighborhoods as well. Former White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley also weighed in stating that the Common Council had made a “generational” mistake by not originally purchasing the property for $8.5 million to construct a recreational facility that would have been similar to Eastchester’s Lake Isle Club. It was a facility that could have been enjoyed by residents and the newly re-furbished clubhouse and catering facility would have brought much needed sales tax revenue to the city. The FASNY school project is slated to be tax-exempt.
No surprise that the Common Council again called an end to the speakers around 9:30p.m. and has scheduled yet another public meeting on September 29th. Another delay, more conversation, and a tabling of the vote, presumably set to let Election Day safely come and go, in the hope that Nadine Hunt-Robinson will keep her seat on the Common Council. She is being challenged by Republican and South-end resident Terrence Guerriere. Guerriere is behind the stop FASNY movement. If Guerriere is elected that would be a third vote against the FASNY project. Common Councilmembers Milagros Lecuona and Dennis Krolian withdrew their support of the project last December; maintaining their stance steadfastly. The project needs five “yes” votes to proceed.
There will be losers on all sides no matter how the Common Council votes. If the project is voted forward the residents of the south-end have promised litigation. If the project is denied, FASNY will litigate. The real losers in this game will be the White Plains taxpayers. No doubt this will be a long and drawn out fight for both sides. In the meantime, Mayor Thomas Roach is seeing a downturn in the economic health of the city he leads and the ribbon cuttings have become few and far between.
Nancy King is a freelance reporter residing in Westchester County.