The Gedney Association filed a Notice of Appeal last week with hopes of reversing State Supreme Court Judge Lefkowitz’s decision dismissing its lawsuit challenging the approval of the French American School of New York (FASNY) plan for a regional school in the Gedney Farms neighborhood of White Plains.
The Aug. 24 decision rejected two separate legal challenges by the neighborhood association to the City of White Plains Common Council’s grant of Special Permit and Site Plan approval for FASNY’s application for a reduced School on 27 acres of the 129-acre former Ridgeway Country Club.
The dispute between FASNY and residents of the Gedney Farms neighborhood association has been ongoing for seven years.
Based upon a prior successful legal challenge by FASNY, The City of White Plains and FASNY entered into a Stipulation of Settlement in 2016, in which FASNY filed a reduced Upper School only plan for no more than 640 students that limited all construction to one parcel of the former Ridgeway site. After a year of further review, in November 2017, the City Council approved FASNY’s revised application. A moratorium of 15 years was set for no development to take place on other parcels on the site originally slated for use by the school.
In a statement dated Sept. 28, the Association said it believes clear requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) were neglected and Judge Lefkowitz’s decision to be in conflict with her earlier findings. “The Judge mistakenly concluded that FASNY’s moratorium on any new development on the property satisfied laws governing segmentation which requires a development plan consider the entire property not only segments. In fact, FASNY’s moratorium commitment related only to its plans and not to other developers,” the statement said.
The Gedney Association is also appealing the Judge’s dismissal of its lawsuit seeking enforcement of the private Deed Restriction prohibiting Institutional Use on the property. “The language of the Deed Restriction is perfectly clear: Institutional Use is prohibited. Many homebuyers in the surrounding neighborhood purchased their homes with the assurance of this long-standing covenant. Despite the specific language in the Deed Restriction the Judge decided to define what an institution is,” the Association alleges.
On this issue, the Court held that while the 1925 Covenant “unequivocally prohibits many uses […] it contains no like prohibition of any use related to education.”
Judge Lefkowitz likewise rejected arguments that the 1925 Covenant’s prohibition of “noxious” uses applied to a school, noting that under New York law, in fact, “such uses are presumed to have a beneficial effect on the community in which they are located,” and that the “law has long favored free and unencumbered use of real property. ”
The Association said it also finds the Judge’s statement implying that the Association is advocating a “slavish servitude” to the City’s Comprehensive Plan alarming. “This conflicts with established land use law in New York whereby governmental bodies must not only consider but, in fact, comply with its Comprehensive Plan in deciding land use matters. Indeed, the City’s Comprehensive Plan was updated in recent years and clearly stipulated that the property in question should be developed at the lowest possible density given its environmental sensitivity,” the statement said.
In an interview with The White Plains Examiner, Gedney Association President John Sheehan said the Association has six months from the date of filing to perfect the appeal.
Sheehan noted that even without the FASNY school in place, traffic on Mamaroneck Avenue has increased substantially in both directions during rush hours, caused he believes by the continued development of the White Plains downtown. And while Sheehan agrees that a healthy downtown is good for all of White Plains, he sees the ongoing trend of the Common Council to grant spot zoning changes in favor of increased density a disturbing trend.
Sheehan also said sewage and stormwater management issues throughout the city were causes for increased concern and would continue to play a major role in the outlying neighborhoods, especially on the former Ridgeway Country Club property where underground water systems are known to be flowing.
When asked how the Notice of Appeal affects FASNY development plans, this statement was released: “Having already lost a half dozen lawsuits, it is disappointing that the Gedney Association has chosen to continue its costly and wasteful legal tactics. Their actions speak for themselves.”
In the meantime, it appears that no construction or preparation for development is underway on the site.