White Plains Common Council to consider settlement with FASNY

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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After a state judge accused the city of White Plains of waging “war of attrition” on a proposal from the French-American School of New York to build a school on a former country club in the city, the two sides have reached a tentative settlement.

The White Plains Common Council will consider a stipulation agreement with FASNY at its regular meeting Tuesday night that would put the lawsuit on hold long enough to allow the school to submit a reduced plan for its proposed new central campus.

The possible settlement is the latest in a dispute between the city, neighborhood groups and the school that stretches back five years. In 2011, FASNY bought the former Ridgeway Country Club for $11 million with plans to consolidate its three Westchester campuses into a new facility on the property. The school submitted a $60 million plan to build a five-building campus that would cover students from pre-school through 12th grade, and include a 78-acre public park maintained by the school.

The reduced plan, which would still need to submit to a full environmental and zoning review from the city, would eliminate the lower school (nursery through fifth grade), reducing the population of the school from 950 students to 640 and reducing building square footage by 35 percent.

The original conservation easement has been decreased from 78 acres to 51 acres, which FASNY said in a statement reflects the reduction in student population and building size. FASNY filed for two easements with the city last week, one for the 51 acre conservation easement and another for a pedestrian and bike pathway that will connect to Robinhood Road in the city.

Hathaway Lane would also remain open under the revised plan. The original plan called for the closure of the public road. That became a sticking point, as FASNY first filed its suit against the city in September 2015 after the White Plains Common Council failed to reach a super-majority vote needed to close the city road a month earlier.

In an April 19 decision, State Supreme Court Judge Joan B. Lefkowitz called the city’s handling of FASNY’s application “farcical” and denied a motion from the city to dismiss the school’s lawsuit.

In a statement, FASNY said that, while it is confident it would prevail in ongoing litigation, the school’s board of trustees is offering this compromise as a way of “settling this unfortunate litigation.”

“We believe that we have put forth a proposal that works for our school and addresses the most contentious issues that have been raised by some of the neighbors,” said Andrea Colombel, chairperson of FASNY’s board. “We expect that the mayor and Common Council will agree.”

FASNY’s plan has been strongly opposed by a group of White Plains residents near the property, led by the Gedney Association, a group representing the Gedney Farms neighborhood. The group has fought the project out of concerns that it is too big for the neighborhood and would cause traffic and drainage issues.

In a statement, the Gedney Association criticized the timing of the settlement’s announcement before Labor Day weekend and urged the common council to vote against it. The group said the settlement “gives us absolutely nothing and gives FASNY a backdoor entrance to do exactly what they planned on doing.”

White Plains Neighbors ACT, a group in favor of the project that says it represents about 800 residents, put out a statement urging the common council to vote in favor of the settlement.

If the White Plains Common Council does vote in favor of the settlement, it would not be obligated to approve the alternative plan.

“We are agreeing to give FASNY’s proposal a thorough review and fair consideration which they and all interested parties are entitled to with or without a stipulation,” White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach said in a statement.

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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