FASNY Wins Key Court Case to End Seven-Year Review
John Jordan | August 2018
WHITE PLAINS—A protracted regulatory and legal battle that has lasted more than seven years to redevelop the former Ridgeway Country Club in White Plains by the French American School of New York may be finally over.
On Aug. 24, New York State Supreme Court Judge Joan Lefkowitz rejected two separate legal challenges filed by the neighborhood group the Gedney Association and others to the City of White Plains Common Council’s November 2017 approvals of a special permit and site plan application for FASNY’s revised plan.
The revised FASNY proposal is for a school to be built on 27 acres of the 129-acre former Ridgeway Country Club.
In the 26-page decision, Judge Lefkowitz dismissed all 10 causes of action of the Gedney Association and other plaintiffs. In the litigation, the plaintiffs had charged 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 judge noted in her ruling that while the 1925 covenant “unequivocally prohibits many uses…it contains no like prohibition of any use related to education.”
In 2011 FASNY acquired the former Ridgeway Country Club for $11 million and presented its development plan that was intended to consolidate its school operations in Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Scarsdale onto one campus. FASNY was founded in 1980 in Larchmont. The project sparked intense local opposition and subsequent litigation and has been one of the most contentious development proposals in years in the City of White Plains.
Based upon a prior successful legal challenge by FASNY, the city 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, the White Plains City Council approved FASNY’s revised application in November 2017, which prompted the Gedney Association and others to bring two separate legal challenges against the City Council and FASNY that were recently dismissed.
“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 added, “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 that “FASNY had already recorded a 51-acre publicly accessible conservancy on its property, and looks forward to sharing this incredible open space with its neighbors and other members of the White Plains community.”
FASNY’s counsel, Michael Zarin of Zarin and Steinmetz, said, “Judge Lefkowitz’s decision confirms that the courts will sustain environmental reviews that are the product of a careful and comprehensive review of the issues. FASNY has demonstrated great commitment to its constituents and to the larger community, and we are very proud to have been part of this long journey.”
The scaled down school proposal approved last November calls for the French American School for grades 6-12. The Upper campus will also include a gymnasium, performing arts center, athletic fields and a greenhouse. The school will be developed at the former site of where the Ridgeway Golf Club clubhouse and country club facilities were located.
Among the key revisions to its original plan included keeping Hathaway Lane open, the elimination of the Lower School (nursery through fifth grade) from the project, which reduced the student population at the property by 33% from 950 to 640. The revised plan also reduces the total building square footage from 243,000 square feet to 158,000 square feet.
The plan as originally proposed was estimated to be valued at $60 million. The French American School has not released a revised development cost for the project. A spokesman for the French American School said that no construction timetable for the project had been established. After the latest litigation was filed by the Gedney Association, a school spokesman told Real Estate In-Depth that all work on the project, including design, had been suspended until a final decision on the court case was rendered.
A spokesman for the Gedney Association could not be reached for comment at press time.