The White Plains Examiner

Land Use Issues Take Center Stage in a Look Back at 2014

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urlOutstanding in mid-Westchester County during 2014 were a number of land use issues across the area that brought residents out to public meetings as they sought to keep the nature of their neighborhoods in tact in the face of the onward push of growing development in the region.

In particular, the French American School of New York (FASNY) proposal in the Gedney neighborhood of White Plains, the vacant Franks Nursery property in Greenburgh, and the Quarry on Lake Street in West Harrison took center stage.

There were other events as well that stood out over 2014 and we will look at these on the timeline from January to December as they unfolded.


Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino runs for governor. Following his resounding re-election as County Executive in November 2013, state Republicans began courting Astorino about the possibility of a matchup that would feature him, a Mount Pleasant resident, against Cuomo, who lives in New Castle in a run for governor. It was as early as inauguration day on January 1 that Astorino acknowledged he was considering taking on the race. “It’s something I have to consider because maybe you get this shot once,” Astorino said. “But I feel very, very strongly about the direction this state is going in, and it’s not the right one and that concerns me.” By mid-February news reports had Astorino near a decision, but indicated he would make an announcement within weeks. Donald Trump, who had loudly proclaimed he would be the Republican candidate of choice for NYS governor, began to quiet. On March 5, Astorino formally announced his run amid turmoil that he could be forcing a Republican primary, which did not happen. “I’m tired of listening to the fairy tale that everything is just great when it’s just the opposite,” Astorino said in his announcement. “I’m tired of watching New York’s decline.” On Election Day, the results came in fairly quickly. Astorino was able to collect nearly 40 percent of the vote despite being little known outside of Westchester at the outset of the campaign, and being faced with the daunting task of running against an incumbent whose last name has been part of New York politics for decades. Cuomo also enjoyed having as much as a 10-to-1 advantage in campaign funds to spend, according to published reports.

As soon as the election tallies were in Astorino immediately got back to the work of Westchester County and within days and presented his proposed 2015 budget.


Common Core Standards Blasted. During January 2014, meetings and forums of parents, students and teachers as well as local legislators began attacking the Common Core Standards, saying school had become focused only on testing and that a moratorium on the program was necessary. By mid-February, State Education Commissioner Dr. John King Jr. was severely criticized and some state assemblymen began calling for his resignation. The clamor over Common Core continued into election season as a major issue for state candidates. In December Dr. King announced his resignation as state education commissioner and his acceptance of an education job with the Obama administration.


Game-On 365 Holds on to sports facility dream. In February, Game On 365 went into overtime to develop an indoor sports facility along Dobbs Ferry Road in Greenburgh. Although a public referendum in November 2013 OK’d development of the complex on property owned by Frank’s Nursery, 715 Dobbs Ferry Road, developers continued to encounter opposition and litigation at that site. During a work session Feb. 11, the Greenburgh Town Board was expected to consider rezoning an adjoining property at 701 Dobbs Ferry Road, owned by the Westchester Golf Range, also known as Family Golf. The “overlay zone” would allow for new development as a Field House for year round recreation including soccer, lacrosse, football, baseball and field hockey. Game On 365 LLC said it could additionally utilize the Frank’s Nursery property for field sports. The public hearings in February into March met with tough opposition from residents neighboring the property and a final vote on the re-zoning was postponed. Threats of litigation on both sides resulted in the Town Board looking to auction the property and by June had hired an auction company to do the job. By November 60 bids had been received but a decision was postponed as it looked like the price of the property would be severely impacted by environmental considerations raised by several of the bidders. By December the Greenburgh Town Board had received a report from the DEC outlining several environmental concerns and was looking at remediation going into 2015.


White Plains FASNY decision moves slowly through the process. Closing in on three years of a process to determine if a regional K-12 school would be built on the meandering golf course in a White Plains single-family neighborhood, acceptance of a final Environmental Impact Statement by the city’s Common Council caused residents of the Gedney Neighborhood Association to file a lawsuit in March contesting the decision. Public opposition across White Plains began to grow as Gedney residents held their own informational meeting at White Plains High School in June that attracted several hundred attendees. After a successful event, residents petitioned the White Plains Council to hold its public hearings on the FASNY special permit and site plan at the same location to enable both councilmembers and residents a chance to see each other during discussion. Hot weather with no air conditioning and lack of adequate seating at city hall were cited as reasons to move the hearings to a better space.

By August, the White Plains Planning Board was considering its comments for the Common Council regarding FASNY. A new variation on the site plan that moved entrance to the school campus from Ridgeway to North Street, across from the entrance to White Plains High School and that closed a portion of a neighborhood street, Hathaway Lane, became the focus of concern. The Planning Board sent a letter to the White Plains Council advising against closure of Hathaway Lane and suggested alternative solutions to internal traffic problems on the site. At about the same time, the White Plains Schools Board of Education sent a letter to the Council advising against the FASNY plan, saying the proposed traffic configuration was not safe.

The public hearings continued into September, when hydrology issues on the site were revisited and into October and November, when FASNY presented a revised site plan addressing concerns raised during earlier hearing dates.

In December the FASNY hearings were formally closed with a 15-day written comment period extended to the 18th of that month. The Council vote and final decision is anticipated but not yet on a formal schedule as 2014 ends.


Knicks D League finds home at Westchester County Center. On March 6 the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted to approve a formal licensing agreement with the Madison Square Garden Company, which brought the NY Knicks affiliated

NBA Developmental team to the Westchester County Center. In May, the team was officially named Westchester Knicks. The Knicks D-League games commenced at the Westchester County Center in November. The 24-game season will run through April, with the potential of playoff games also being played in April.


Beloved philanthropist Pat Lanza passes. Westchester County lost an exceptional member of its community with the passing of Patricia Lanza on April 3. She had been referred to by many as an unsung hero. Lanza, an Eastchester resident, was 81 years old when she died. Known for a philanthropy that was thoughtfully directed toward helping people to help themselves, especially young people and women so they would be properly fed, clothed and equipped to be able to succeed in their lives, Patricia Lanza was responsible for distributing millions of dollars through the Harrison based Lanza Family Foundation to nonprofit organizations over several decades of giving. By 2014 she was known to have been involved with over 100 different groups.


West Harrison Lake Street Quarry noise and dumping reaches a head. Residents and business owners upset with continued noise, air and truck pollution in and around the Lake Street Quarry in West Harrison told the Town Board in early May that they’re tired of words without action because of continuing court postponements and appeals by the quarry owner. A stop work order, signed on May14, made the neighborhood quiet as alleged violations of Harrison codes included the lack of a stormwater retention and collection system and no site plan approvals for parking, fencing and trailers. The quarry was prohibited from accepting any more recyclables and waste, and was not allowed to sell any material from the quarry while the stop work order was in effect. A Harrison judge set a September 4 trial date and during a July hearing demanded that the quarry owner begin cleaning up landfill on the site. Frustrated, the owner, Lawrence Barrego, proposed rezoning the site as a “neighborhood business.” The development plan included a 30,000-square-foot grocery store, bank and offices with 181 parking spaces. Opponents living near the quarry said they were not eager to see decades of dust, noise and pollution from the quarry being replaced by more traffic, duplicate stores and smells wafting from a new bakery.

In September after five years of litigation, the quarry owner fired his attorney, postponing the trial for several more months.


Historic Good Counsel property goes up for sale. The historic site of the motherhouse and chapel of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion at 52 North Street in White Plains was put on the sales block in June with the schools and nuns living on the property given a July 2015 move out date by the order’s leadership team. Stamford-based real estate firm CBRE was given the task of marketing the property and attracting bidders.

By October, parents of students at Good Counsel Academy High School frustrated by lack of information about a school move and sale of the property held a meeting of several hundred people at the famous Chapel of the Divine Compassion on the site. They demanded answers to their questions about the future of the school and an extension of at least one year to be able to save their high school, which they said was viable and should not face the threat of closure.

Students held vigils, rallies and other activities, even approached the Cardinal at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC after Sunday mass, to try to stall sale of the property to a residential or commercial developer.

Rumors that a local church with other investors had interest in the property and had a verbal commitment were not verified and the fate of the school and future development of the property remain a question going into 2015.


Dr. Richard Rockefeller dies in plane crash at Westchester County Airport. In news that stunned the country, Richard Rockefeller was killed in a plane crash on June 13, just minutes after take off from Westchester County Airport. Airport manager Peter Scherrer during a press conference said conditions at the airport were poor that morning and visibility was low, extreme conditions for the airport. A family spokesman said Rockefeller was an experienced pilot and frequently flew in and out of the airport, where about 400 planes take off and land each day. Harrison police said the plane crashed into trees on a horse farm, Stratford Stables, about a half-mile from the airport, narrowly missing an occupied house. It broke into many pieces, and debris was spread about 100 feet. According to officials, no one on the ground was injured. Rockefeller had flown to New York to have dinner with his father David Rockefeller. He was celebrating his 99th birthday. Debris from the crash was removed. Investigation is expected to take up to as much of a year before a final report is made.

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