The White Plains Examiner

Gedney Assoc. Claims Victory, FASNY Vows to Sue

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(This story has been updated.)

The “Yes” votes outweighed the “No” votes (4 to 3) on the French American School of New York’s (FASNY) request to close a portion of Hathaway Lane, but the closure of a public street and its removal from the White Plains city map requires a super majority (5 to 2) according to the city charter, and the legislation was not adopted at a Special Meeting of the Common Council Wednesday evening.

In a communication sent out overnight and as expressed by neighbors after the vote and on Facebook, the Gedney Neighborhood Association is calling the vote a victory over FASNY.

“Hopefully, this should finally put an end to the FASNY saga that has dragged on for almost five years.  We thank everyone who contributed to the effort to reject the FASNY application including our neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhoods as well as residents across the City.  We also thank the numerous municipal Boards, especially the School Board, for their invaluable input regarding the potentially devastating FASNY plan. ”

“It is now time for FASNY to do the only logical, fair and right thing for this neighborhood and the City of White Plains and move on.  Too much time has been expended on a series of unworkable site plan schemes,” the Gedney Association statement said.

The Gedney Association release also said: “Should FASNY regrettably decide to take action against the City we believe the City will prevail as it gave FASNY every opportunity to show how their plan was feasible.  For our part we will continue to monitor the situation and any other alternative development proposed by a new owner.”

However, Wednesday evening FASNY released a statement confirming its intention to pursue litigation: “We are deeply disappointed and disturbed by the outcome of tonight’s vote by the White Plains Common Council. While the Majority on the Council understood that the plan for our school and publicly accessible Open Space Conservancy meets all environmental and legal criteria and has been fully and thoroughly vetted, others sided with a group of neighborhood opponents and rejected the plan. This is the same group of opponents who fought the City when it sought to purchase the property for a municipal golf course and pool.”

“We believe this decision is unsustainable on many grounds. As a result, we will immediately commence legal action in New York State, as well as possibly Federal Court, seeking an overturning of the City Council’s Decision and potential millions of dollars in damages. We are confident that we will prevail, have the right to build the school, and that the rejection of the plan was arbitrary and capricious at best. The Council had previously voted 6-1 that all environmental findings under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) had been met and there is no legitimate basis to now reject the plan. It is a shame that three members of this Council have sought fit to engage this City in a needless and expensive legal battle that it will lose, and cost White Plains taxpayers significant sums of money. After nearly five years of the most intensive review given to any development plan in City history, and despite numerous revisions and compromises that we have made to address the concerns of the public and the City, the rejection of a School, a very well respected one at that, is utterly unreasonable and illegal.”

“We have the support of hundreds of neighborhood residents, environmental organizations and the leading business organizations in Westchester County. White Plains has a well-deserved reputation as a center for schools and education, and diversity. We remain confident that the Court will uphold our plan, and that our school will become an important part of this rich community of White Plains soon.”

The partial closure of Hathaway Lane was crucial to FASNY’s  Site Plan, Transportation Management Plan and ultimately because it mitigated problems identified during the SEQRA process (a New York State environmental review process that provides legal parameters), granting of a Special Permit to operate a school in a residential zone.

The original plan called for a main entrance off of Ridgeway. By moving the entrance to North Street directly across from the entrance to White Plains High School and rerouting traffic through the site with an intersection on the school property at Hathaway Lane, partial closure of the street was requested to ensure traffic flow within the site could be contained and to ensure student and pedestrian safety. FASNY offered increased setbacks and other concessions in exchange.

Because the partial closure of Hathaway Lane was not granted, the hearing on the Site Plan was adjourned with Mayor Tom Roach and members of the Council anticipating that next steps would lead to the courtroom.

Essentially, FASNY’s request to develop a K-12 regional school in the Gedney Neighborhood on the site of the former Ridgeway Country Club was denied.

Legal action by FASNY against White Plains, would result with a judge  making the final decision about whether or not FASNY can go ahead with its plans and how many of the concessions the institution gave to the city during negotiations would be kept.

Councilwoman Beth Smayda was the first to comment, saying she would vote in favor of closing Hathaway Lane, saying that FASNY had met and exceeded requirements set by adopted environmental findings in December 2013.

Councilwoman Nadine Hunt-Robinson, surprising many people in attendance, said she would vote “No” because the impact of street closure on emergency vehicle response times in the Gedney neighborhood would have a negative impact surpassing any benefits of the FASNY proposal. Seconds count in saving lives, she said.

Councilman John Kirkpatrick referred to his comments at an earlier meeting and chose not to expound further on his reasons for voting “Yes.” As a lawyer with experience in land use and zoning, Kirkpatrick felt the legal implications required acceptance of FASNY’s plan.

Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona, who originally had voted against acceptance of the Environmental Impact Statement because she felt not all the negative impacts had been identified, maintained her position with a “No” vote.

Councilman Dennis Krolian also said the discontinuance of a portion of Hathaway Lane created negative impacts on fire and other emergency vehicle response times and voted “No.”

Councilman John Martin voted “Yes” to the partial street closure. Speaking about the law, he felt it was unfortunate that a judge would most likely be making a decision on the FASNY Special Permit and Site Plan application and that might mean that all the ground gained by the city, especially the conservancy, increased setbacks, and reduction in the overall FASNY school student population could be lost. Considering the decision on the street closure and acceptance or denial of the proposed site plan as one consideration, Martin said he felt the Site Plan as proposed was the best the city could get and that a court decision would not be in the best interests of the city.

Mayor Roach voted “Yes” because he said considering the law, it was the best thing to do in his opinion. Acknowledging that there would not be a super majority to approve the street closing, Roach said that the city’s administration would defend the interests of the city should it be sued.



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