Latest White Plains Common Council Meeting on French American School of New York (FASNY) Project Raises Questions About Hidden Reports That Were Never Made Public
WHITE PLAINS, NY — MARCH 18, 2017 — Following a March 15, 2017th vote by the White Plains Common Council that determined that the proposed development site for the French American School of New York (FASNY) is environmentally sensitive, The Gedney Association yesterday expressed serious concerns about Mayor Thomas Roach and his administration continuing to operate in alleged secrecy in a deliberate attempt to favorably advance the FASNY project.
“While we are pleased with this latest decision by the Common Council, there is compelling evidence that the Mayor’s office concealed two important reports that were secretly commissioned and completed months ago,” said John E. Sheehan, President of The Gedney Association, one of a growing list of civic associations representing more than 2,000 homeowners throughout White Plains opposed to the FASNY project. “These reports demonstrated that the FASNY site is environmentally sensitive. “Frankly, this matter should never have come to this, as the Common Council voted in December 2013 that the entire site was environmentally sensitive.”
“As part of a Settlement Agreement in September 2016 in a lawsuit FASNY filed against the City in 2015, based on a denial of FASNY’s application to close Hathaway Lane, the Roach Administration inexplicably included a provision reconsidering the 2013 determination that the site was environmentally sensitive,” Sheehan explained. “That questionable move forced our organization to spend considerable time and financial resources to fight a battle that the evidence clearly indicates should never have had to have been fought.”
According to Sheehan, in early November 2016 White Plains had quietly engaged an outside consultant, Evans Environmental Consultants, Inc. (Evans) to analyze whether the FASNY development site (Parcel A) was an environmentally sensitive site (ESS). This occurred without a public vote of the Common Council. At the end of November, Evans issued a report that concluded that Parcel A was an environmentally sensitive site (ESS), yet the report sat undisclosed for over three months. Sheehan further explained that his organization retained its own legal counsel and environmental consultant who also issued a report to Mayor Roach and the White Plains Common Council at the end of November 2016 reaching the same conclusion that Parcel A was an environmentally sensitive site (ESS).
“We’d like to know why the Evans report was only first disclosed to the public on the evening of the March 15, 2017th vote when the Roach Administration had the document since last November,” Sheehan said. “Another question is why this report was not shared with the Common Council until a few days before the vote.”
Indeed, within days of the Evans report in November, FASNY began performing extensive on-site testing, including digging holes around and about Parcel A. According to Sheehan, those test results have never been divukged and this too raises the question whether the Roach Administration shared the findings of the secret Evans report with FASNY while not disclosing them to the Common Council and the public.
According to Sheehan, the Roach Administration also retained outside environmental legal counsel, Mark Landsman, Esq. who provided an opinion on the environmentally sensitive site (ESS) issue. Again, there is no record of any public resolution authorizing this report. In mid-February, Landsman submitted an opinion that Parcel A met the legal definition of an environmentally sensitive site (ESS).
“This second report sat with the Administration for almost a month before also being made public on the night of the environmentally sensitive site (ESS) vote,” Sheehan said.
Meanwhile, as these two reports remained tucked away, FASNY’s legal counsel, Zarin & Steinmetz, submitted a letter to the City of White Plains on March 7, 2017, suggesting a “secret deal” between the Roach Administration and FASNY. In his letter, Mr. Zarin stated that an “essential premise” of the application process was that “…FASNY’s limitation of the Alternative School Plan to Parcel A would only require a simple majority vote”.
On March 9, 2017, Howard Avrutine, counsel for the Gedney Association, wrote to the City of White Plains and expressed the public’s alarm regarding the secret deal between the Roach Administration and FASNY. In that letter, Avrutine stated: Mr. Zarin has taken the position that the stipulation of settlement requires (i) that the common Council “delist” Parcel A as an ESS; and (ii) that the Common Council approve the project by a simple “majority vote”.
The very next day, Friday, March 10, 2017, the City of White Plains scheduled a Special Meeting concerning a vote on the environmentally sensitive site (ESS), which was held on March 15, 2017th where the Common Council officially determined that the development site was environmentally sensitive.
“When the dots are connected, this series of events poses very troubling questions regarding the continued questionable conduct of the Roach Administration concerning the FASNY project and an apparent months-long non-disclosure of reports that were not favorable to FASNY,” Sheehan said. “We’re pleased that the entire property remains an environmentally sensitive site (ESS) and as such will require a supermajority vote for approval. However, the lack of transparency exhibited by Mayor Roach and his administration throughout this entire process is appalling,” Sheehan concluded.
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SOURCE: Gedney Association