Can City of White Plains and French American School Settle on a Plan?
John Jordan | September 2016
WHITE PLAINS—The controversial French American School of New York development at the former Ridgeway Country Club in White Plains has taken a dramatic turn.
The White Plains Common Council in a 4-3 vote approved a settlement agreement on Sept. 6th that puts litigation on hold in return for the council’s review of a revised plan.
The five-and-a-half year saga, which resulted in the French American School filing suit against the City of White Plains last year over the city’s actions in connection with an earlier plan, could be nearing a close.
The key revisions to the plan include keeping Hathaway Lane open, the elimination of the Lower School (nursery through fifth grade) from the project, thus reducing the student population at the property by 33% from 950 to 640. Also, the Upper School would be constructed on the already developed portion of the site where the clubhouse and other former Ridgeway Country Club facilities now stand. The plan as originally proposed was estimated to be valued at $60 million.
The approved Stipulation of Settlement calls for: the Common Council “to provide the Alternative Plan a diligent and fair review in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, mutually agreed to milestones, court-ordered oversight for the review process, and the staying of all litigation until the Alternative Plan is determined by the city under its normal public review procedures.”
“We are gratified that the Common Council has approved the settlement agreement. Tonight’s vote is long overdue and represents a win-win for the city and the FASNY community. All parties can now put aside costly litigation and concentrate on obtaining final approvals for a compromise school plan,” said Andrea Colombel, board chairperson of FASNY. “We expect the judge to sign the agreement in the next few days which will give the court authority to oversee the review process. We expect a timely and fair review and look forward to putting a shovel in the ground. FASNY is a wonderful school with a vibrant community which will contribute to the City of White Plains and its residents for many years to come,” she added.
White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach stressed at the council session that the agreement does not compel the city to approve the revised plan. “If we decide it doesn’t work, we go right back to where we are today,” Roach said in a report in the Journal News. “We’re not giving up any of our rights.”
FASNY has already recorded and created a 51-acre publically accessible conservancy on part of its land with plans to create an east-west and north-south pedestrian and bicycle paths for neighborhood residents, as previously proposed. Known as “Parcel D,” the land has frontage on Bryant Avenue, North Street and Hathaway Lane. It has just become the largest private conservation easement in Westchester south of Interstate 287, and the first in the City of White Plains. The conservation easement assures that the property cannot be developed, and will ultimately be open to the public.
The reduction in the conservation easement from the 78 acres offered by FASNY in the original plan to 51 acres reflects the 35% reduction in the size of the school buildings and the 33% reduction in the student population under the Alternative Plan, FASNY stated.
“We are deeply appreciative for the continued and growing support we have received from thousands of residents and businesses across White Plains. We look forward to moving forward and putting this unfortunate delay behind us,” Colombel said.
Council members John Martin, Beth Smayda and James Kirkpatrick, along with Mayor Roach voted to approve the Stipulation of Settlement with FASNY. Council members Milagros Lecuona, Nadine Hunt-Robinson and Dennis Krolian voted against the settlement agreement.
FASNY acquired the former Ridgeway Country Club in 2011 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 has been one of the most contentious development proposals in some time in the City of White Plains.
A FASNY spokesperson, in response to questions posed by Real Estate In-Depth, stated the FASNY rents facilities in Westchester County (Larchmont, Scarsdale, and Mamaroneck) and will continue to rent and operate facilities for the Lower School, as it has done for the past 35 years. Therefore the revised plan significantly alters what had been an initiative to consolidate all its Westchester County operations to the White Plains campus.
The revised plan also reduces the total building square footage from 243,000 square feet to 158,000 square feet.
When asked how the revisions would affect the overall cost of the project, the FASNY spokesperson stated, “The publicly quoted project budget was always for the Upper School portion of the school’s phased plan.”
One of the groups that have been critical of the FASNY project, blasted the settlement agreement. The Gedney Association, in a prepared statement provided to Real Estate In-Depth, stated, “The ‘Settlement’ turns on its head the earlier Environmental Findings by the Council that explicitly stated that FASNY could not use Ridgeway as its entrance to the complex nor local streets such as Hathaway Lane. Remarkably, the ‘FASNY FOUR’ (the Mayor and Council members Kirkpatrick, Martin and Smayda) are now considering de-designating Parcel A as an “Environmentally Sensitive Site”— a blatant and transparent attempt to avoid the requirement for a super-majority vote.”
The association stated that it “intends to plan and coordinate its efforts with the neighborhood associations already on record against the FASNY project as well as other citizens who believe the integrity of our land use review process has collapsed to special interests.”
Photo Caption: A map of the layout of the alternate plan for the French American School of New York at the former Ridgeway Country Club property. (PDF)