Home Education Battle on Ridgeway

Battle on Ridgeway

French-American School of New York’s plan to develop a portion of the 128.6-acre Ridgeway Country Club, which it bought for $11 million, has stirred up passions in the Gedney neighborhood of White Plains.

“We know it’s a private property and we can’t say, ‘Don’t use it,’ but we feel that since the 1920s its best use has been as a golf course,” said White Plains resident Terence Guerriere, president of The Gedney Association, who leads a 12-member board of governors representing about 400 households. “The addition of several buildings and 1,200 students coupled with a couple-hundred faculty and staff – our greatest concern is traffic.”

Blandine Fillion and Michael Zarin and rendering of the French-American School of New York, White Plains.

Guerriere said the “depth and breadth of opposition outside of Gedney Farms is significant.”

Michael Zarin, partner at Zarin & Steinmetz in White Plains, the attorney for the school, said that some of the neighborhood’s concerns are legitimate, but “Frankly, we were a little bit surprised by how quickly people came to a conclusion on it before all the information has even come out.” Traffic studies measure less than 4 percent of an increase in flow, with drop-off and pickup occurring right onsite, Zarin said.

Both the homeowners association and school concurred that future dialogue is welcome following a public forum Jan. 6 in which Guerriere noted overwhelming opposition to the proposed development.

The school, in turn, hosted an open house Jan. 29 to introduce the community to the school and present the preliminary site plan.

The school currently leases its Scarsdale, Mamaroneck and Larchmont campus buildings.

“We’ve grown from 17 kids 30 years ago to nearly 840 kids now,” said Mischa Zabotin, chairman of the school’s board of directors. “We’ve grown 14 percent a year on an average basis. We opened our campus in Scarsdale about four to five years ago and we had 11 families in Scarsdale. That 11 turned into 53. I would argue that not only do we not hinder real estate values, but we’re actually going to improve values.”

Guerriere argued that land values could indeed drop “and that would reverberate to other parts of the community” if the cost to widen roads and fix sewer systems on Ridgeway became a taxpayer burden.

As a case study, Zarin compared French-American School with German School New York and Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in White Plains.

“Studies have indicated the value of those neighborhoods around there – the prices of the houses go up,” he said. “Moreover, there will be members of the FASNY community who will be looking to live near the campus. This will expand dramatically the amount of potential buyers.”

Environmental concerns are another hot-button issue.

Blandine Fillion, vice president of French-American School’s board of directors, said the “size of what we envision” has been grossly escalated.

The plan would consolidate all three campuses; the upper school and administration would operate within the existing footprint of the Ridgeway clubhouse.

Another building would be added for the lower school and the middle school with a gymnasium in between.

Zarin said none of the buildings are more than two-stories high.

The school said it is committed to preserving 60-some acres as dedicated open space with the creation of retention ponds and biofilters to alleviate stormwater drainage concerns.

“We’re not going to be watering the course to an extent that a private (golf) club would,” Zabotin said. “We’ve put a lot of thought into improving that aspect of it.”

Guerriere called the land “so wet and undevelopable that anyone who wanted to do something with this property would have to give it over to open space anyway.

“We understand that passions run high,” he said. “We have agreed to disagree without being disagreeable. This is not about them. This is about the property. And we maintain that decorum.”


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