The White Plains Examiner

Judge Decides in Favor of FASNY Development

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State Supreme Court Judge Joan Lefkowitz presented her decision on Aug. 24 to reject two separate legal challenges to the City of White Plains Common Council’s grant of Special Permit and Site Plan approval for the French American School of New York’s (FASNY) application for a reduced School on 27 acres of the 129-acre former Ridgeway Country Club.

The Court decision comes after seven years of reviews, meetings, reevaluations and lawsuits. The Gedney neighborhood association with the backing of other neighborhood associations in White Plains fought development of an institution on the site of the former golf club. Environmental concerns, too much traffic in the neighborhood and an over abundance of institutional presence in the local residential vicinity were core elements of the neighborhood fight.

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, and the Gedney Association and various of its supporters brought two separate legal challenges against the City Council and FASNY.

In a 26-page opinion, Judge Lefkowitz rejected the plaintiffs’ initial argument that the former Ridgeway Country Club could not be used for an educational institution because of a Covenant filed in 1925, prohibiting the use of the property for “any institution, other than a club.” The Court held that while the 1925 Covenant “unequivocally prohibits many uses […] it contains no like prohibition of any use related to education.” The Court 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 Court also rejected various arguments made challenging the substance of the Council’s review, finding that “[t]he Record establishes that the Common Council did take the requisite hard look at all of the potential impacts” related to the school. The Court specifically rejected the Gedney Association’s and its supporters’ contention that the Council failed to consider traffic issues raised by the challengers’ consultant, noting that, under the controlling law, the reviewing agency “has discretion to choose between conflicting experts,” and that various of the plaintiffs’ claims were no more than “rank speculation based on hypothetical circumstances.”

“We are gratified that the Court appreciated the tremendous efforts that both we and the City of White Plains went through to make sure that our project is good for FASNY and for the community as a whole,” said Emmanuèle Vinciguerra, Chair of the FASNY Board of Trustees. She went on to say, “FASNY would like to extend special thanks to all the members of the White Plains community who have supported us throughout these years, as well as, again, extend an open hand to those residents who had concerns about the project.”

Vinciguerra noted, “FASNY had already recorded a 51-acre publicly accessible conservancy on its property, and looks forward to sharing this open space with its neighbors and other members of the White Plains community.”

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