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FASNY Scrutinized at White Plains Zoning Hearing

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - The French-American School of New York wasn’t mentioned outright in the paperwork proposing four former White Plains golf clubs and other tracts become rezoned into an Open Space Recreation District.

That didn't stop every speaker at the White Plains Common Council “scoping” session Tuesday night from mentioning FASNY’s application to build a campus on the former Ridgeway Country Club in the Gedney Farms neighborhood.

Yvonne Gumowitz, a Gedney Farms resident, showed up wearing a button with “FASNO” crossed out with the red circle and slash, like the ones on no smoking signs.

“I’m very concerned about FASNY. I want the city to strengthen their plan,” said Gumowitz, 45, a website developer and director of the Gedney Farms neighborhood association. “We feel [FASNY’s application] goes against the city’s plans to preserve open space. It would mean over 1,200 students traversing through our neighborhood every day and it would destroy the most beautiful historic neighborhood in the city.”

Although Tuesday’s session was meant to clue the council into residents' concerns with development on the former Ridgeway Country Club as well as zoning concerns with the Fenway, Westchester Hills and Maple Moor golf courses and land along the Hutchinson River Parkway, many speakers did not suggest issues to be studied in the city’s environmental review process or concerns with the scoping process.

Instead, Gedney Farms residents detailed concerns about declining property values, noise and increased traffic, while those affiliated with FASNY extolled the benefits of the school’s proposed $60 million campus.

Julius Berger, a Gedney Farms resident, called the school’s application for a special permit “one of the most important decisions” confronting the city since he moved to White Plains 40 years ago.

“Once you give away open space, it’s gone forever,” said Berger. “The common good for the people of White Plains is to have open spaces, not changing the zoning ... This is a question of quality of life for the people who live in this city. I chose it for the same reason many people have: for the open space and for the diversity.”

Berger’s claims that FASNY would ruin the character of the neighborhood, lower house values and congest the roads were echoed in many others speeches. Howard Hawkins, who lives on Ridgeway, said the untouched woods on the country club have helped the neighborhood's flooding and he worries that FASNY’s proposed three-building complex might erode the natural barrier.

The proposed recreation district would limit FASNY to building on 5 percent of its 129-acres and require the school to have 300-foot buffers between its land and neighboring properties. The school would also be forbidden to allow parking in its yard or build an above-ground or below-ground garage. The city may also limit hours at FASNY’s sports fields or other activities that could be considered noisy or “adverse” to neighbors.

According to Michael Zarin, a lawyer representing FASNY, the school’s buildings would only cover 2.4 percent of the property and 60 acres would become a natural preserve for White Plains residents.

“I am having a difficult time understanding why the counsel is about to embark on an expensive, costly evaluation on a proposed action... that I believe is patently unnecessary, unfair and, perhaps mostly importantly, patently illegal,” said Zarin, who then quoted a law, saying, “A municipality must make every diligent effort to accommodate educational and religious uses.”

No other public or private school in White Plains would come close to meeting the zoning rules set forth in the recreation district proposal, according to Zarin.

Other White Plains residents, including Phil Govern and a few from the Gedney Farms neighborhood, said they believed the city was being too tough on FASNY.

“Do we want to be luddites and hold everybody back in terms of change?” said Govern, 60, who enjoys living next to the German School of New York. “If they want to come here, it would be a bonus for White Plains. We’d get open space and we’d get high economic earners in the area. It would be an economic boom for White Plains.”

The Common Council will continue considering written comments from residents until 5 p.m. on July 18th. Comments should be directed to Planning Commissioner Susan Habel at City Hall. After the council reviews the feedback, it will amend the recreation district’s zoning proposals and initiate studies that explore White Plains’ concerns.

What are your thoughts on the recreation district? Do you think White Plains needs open space? Would FASNY intrude? What do you think of FASNY relocating in White Plains? Would it benefit the city? Email your thoughts to strangle@thedailywhiteplains.com and we’ll it include them in future coverage.

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