Urging White Plains Mayor Roach and the Common Council to Reject FASNY’s Most Recent, Incomplete, and Innapropriate Plan
By CLAUDIA G. JAFFE, Esq.

Hezi Aris Business, Community, Economic Development, Education, Environmental, Finance, Governance, History, Law, Op-Ed, People, Westchester County, NY, White Plains, NY Leave a Comment

op-ed iconWHITE PLAINS, NY — April 16, 2017 — By Email, (sent on April 15, 2017)For Incorporation Into The Public Record Concerning The Application Of The French American School Of New York For The Development Of Parcel A Or The Entirety Of Parcels A, B, C, And D Of The Former Ridgeway Golf Club Property

Dear Mayor Roach, Members of the White Plains Common Council and City Clerk,

I am writing after having watched the video of the Public Hearing on FASNY’s third development plan proposal for the former Ridgeway Golf Club property, or more accurately, one parcel of that property, Parcel A.

I urge you to reject FASNY’s latest, and most recent, incomplete, inadequate, an inappropriate plan.

I was out of town on the evening of April 5th and therefore unable to attend the most recent Public Hearing held that night. I have now watched the video of the Hearing and address some matters that occurred to me upon seeing and hearing what transpired during it.

FASNY Has Attempted To Deliberately Mislead The Common Council And Citizens Of White Plains

In prior written statements, and in oral statements my husband, Aaron Jaffe, and I have made to the Common Council at prior Public Hearings, we addressed a number of serious, difficult issues. I won’t repeat them here. I will however ask you to consider matters that we and others have commented upon, including the following:


FASNY’s Failure to Provide a New EIS with the latest (third) plan for the development of its educational complex;  


FASNY’s failure to comply with SEQR procedures;

The Unlawful Segmentation that Would Result From FASNY’s Failure to Disclose its Intentions With Respect To Parcels B, C, and D (the submission of a plan on a piecemeal basis to avoid the reviewing body from understanding the full scope of the applicant’s plans for the parcel(s) involved when the applicant seeks a special permit) See. e.g., N.Y. City Coal. for the Pres. of Gardens v. Giuliani, 175 Misc. 2d 644, 658–59, 670 N.Y.S.2d 654, 664 (Sup. Ct. 1997), aff’d sub nom. N.Y. City Coal. for Pres. of Gardens v. Giuliani, 246 A.D.2d 399, 666 N.Y.S.2d 918 (1998) (“It is of course true that, in considering the environmental impact of Type I and Unlisted Actions defined in SEQR, the agency responsible cannot ignore the combined impact of a development with closely related and multiple phases, nor can it countenance the deliberate division of such developments into smaller parts in an attempt to circumvent the rules of SEQR”); see also Village of Westbury v. Department of Transportation, 75 N.Y.2d 62, 550 N.Y.S.2d 604, 549 N.E.2d 1175; Chinese Staff and Workers Ass’n v. City of New York, 68 N.Y.2d 359, 509 N.Y.S.2d 499, 502 N.E.2d 176; Karasz v. Wallace, 134 Misc.2d 1052, 513 N.Y.S.2d 950).

Deceptive Statements in FASNY’s Now-Current Plan (claiming enrollment is down in the current plan relative to prior plans when in fact the proposed enrollment under the current plan calls for an increase in the number of middle and high-school students, the only students for whom the proposed school buildings are intended);

Inaccuracies in FASNY’s Statements Concerning Traffic (concerning obvious mathematical errors as to the traffic count during “peak hour” studies, a matter addressed in the Expert Report of  Traffic Expert Mary Manning, and a matter about which Ms. Manning spoke on April 5);

Questionable Data for FASNY’s Traffic Study (concerning studies undertaken when FASNY’s experts should have known schools, and many businesses were closed (the day after Thanksgiving), or school attendance was down (the day after the WPHS prom), or neighboring schools were closed for testing or closed for summer vacation);

FASNY’s Representation That The Open, Moving Stream Of Water Traveling Under Parcel A And Leading To The Westchester Hills Golf Club Property Is Merely A Drainage Ditch And Not Evidence Of An Environmentally Sensitive Site (see Ann Bobroff-Hajal’s letter to the Common Council); and

FASNY’s Efforts To Remove Evidence Of The Wetlands Nature Of Parcel A (see Alex Majthenyi’s April 5, 2017 letter concerning the 1946 USGS Survey showing wetlands on Parcel A, and discussing FASNY’s removal of wetland vegetation; see statement of resident (I believe from Murchison) who testified at Public Hearing and discussed flooding of neighborhood homes after FASNY installed drains on its property to remove water from its lands and direct it to parcels owned by others).

FASNY’s Smoke And Mirrors Don’t Reflect Well On Its Application
It seems that in the 6-plus years the FASNY folks have been at this game little has changed. At one of the first sessions of Public Hearings for the then-current version of FASNY’s development plan for Parcels A, B, C, and D of the former Ridgeway Golf Club property, I remember a flock of FASNY supporters parading into City Hall wearing their matching “Greens to Green” t-shirts. How cute that the FASNY Team, dressed uniformly in matching tee shirts, drove from their towns and states to my town to try to teach me and my neighbors about diversity.

Thanks anyway, FASNY, but that’s not a lesson White Plains residents needed, and certainly not one we needed from you, then or now. We are individual, hardworking moms and dads, baseball and soccer coaches, retirees living out our later years in homes where we raised our children and grandchildren, eco-neighbors, retired physicians, worshippers, teachers, students, neighbors, bikers, scooter-riders, pedestrians, babies in strollers, dog-walkers, exercisers, community volunteers, voters, and taxpayers, whose families happen to have chosen to make our homes in one of the most diverse cities in Westchester. We did not settle here because we made a wrong turn and get lost. We did not land in White Plains because we missed the exit for Greenwich, or Cos Cob, or Rye, or Scarsdale. We came here because we wanted a real-world, pluralistic living experience for ourselves and our families. We got one. And we poured our savings and our precious time into building our community, one whose character, calm, safety, health, beauty, values, and way of life we are fighting to preserve.

Some of us have day jobs. We work for a living. We cannot always show up for hearings at 6 p.m. or stake out seats at them. We don’t have nannies to feed dinner to our kids while we attend hearings and tell you how lovely our children are and how fine our school is. We don’t come to Hearings in matching shirts. We come in our spaghetti-stained shirts, straight from feeding our kids, or working at our local restaurant. We come in our suits after going to work early and eating at our desk so we might catch a train early enough to attend and hear what’s being alleged in FASNY’s submissions, versus what’s the reality.

We don’t have Daddy’s Trust Funds to pay attorneys to make frivolous arguments and wage a war of attrition aimed at private citizens who pool funds for counsel fees at pot-luck events. We rely on the volunteer efforts of smart, dedicated, responsible people who live in real houses in our very real communities to uncover the lies and misrepresentations in FASNY’s submissions and tell it like it is.

We don’t have the Thompson PR firm to write catchphrases for us, or draft stock language that can be inserted into letters we sign, or statements we recite at Public Hearings, which you will notice FASNY’s supporters employed if you listen the statements made during the April 5 Public Hearing. We don’t have trained spinmeisters to author letters or statements that our paid operatives use to coax well-intentioned, but misinformed, members of the local clergy to sign, causing decent people to barter a scholarship or two for some needy students to attend a private school, rather than our fine public schools, in exchange for unacceptable risks posed to the health, safety and welfare of thousands of other students who won’t receive such a tuition bonanza, or other persons who traverse the narrow streets of our neighborhoods by car, bicycle, or by foot.

We are not wealthy enough, deceptive enough, or conniving enough to buy-off or manipulate people who are supposed to act for the benefit of all of us, to sell-out on us, and sacrifice our children’s safety. Does the pastor who spoke on April 5th not realize he has let FASNY put a price upon the heads of grammar school kids who walk from Hewitt or Reynal or Ridgeway Circle to Ridgeway Elementary? Or the groups of kids who have to run the gauntlet of Gedney Esplanade, as Denise and Joseph DeMarzo described? Or upon the heads of young children navigating their way to Mamaroneck Elementary? Or on those of kids who hoof it or bike or along Bryant to the White Plains High School? Hmm, would FASNY give out six more scholarships for six more parking spots on Parcel A? What’s the going rate of exchange for a ball field? What’s the price for exceeding White Plains building height restrictions in a residential area by four-feet, an issue about which Robert Stackpole spoke at the April 5th Public Hearing?

I suppose a pastor with a comely face in a crisp frock could teach us about his religion, could probably discuss philosophy with us, or counsel us about personal or family matters. But unless that pastor has a background as a traffic analyst, or is a civil engineer who has studied traffic flow, or has regularly spent time in the neighborhood where I live and knows the traffic patterns there, and understands the volumes of pedestrian and non-motorized traffic, or has knowledge of the traffic accident reports or hospitalization records of persons injured in such accidents, or understands that many people will no longer walk our local streets for fear that doing so will jeopardize their very existence, I fail to see what that pastor could say that could impart any wisdom to the Common Council on the issue of the health and safety of persons in the residential areas most-likely to be affected by the development of Parcel A.

Clearly, FASNY’s PR machine wanted a man in a collar to carry the placard for FASNY Plan III. It is an effective visual. It screams “morals” and might make you think FASNY scored a point in its effort to conform to the criteria of Cornell v. Bagnardi, 68 N.Y.2d 583 (1986),[1] and show the adverse impact of the proposed development would be no less adverse with regard to the neighboring areas, in terms of “health, safety, welfare and morals” than a use of Parcel A that did not require a Special Permit.

Maybe, if FASNY’s Plan-Of-The Week is rejected, FASNY’s team will scare up some Mother Theresa look-a-likes, or men who resemble Mr. Rogers, to pitch their next slogan, or grace their next mass-produced and bulk-mailed color brochure. Or slip a nasty and intimidating letter, criticizing my husband and me for speaking out about the FASNY proposals, in the mail slot of the front door to our home, as someone did in the past.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not have any reason to think that FASNY does anything other than a fine job of educating its students. I expect that those students are as kind and thoughtful and intelligent and full of promise as the students with whom my three sons attended school at Church Street School and Eastview Middle School and White Plains High School.

The issue is not whether FASNY can create a swell school. The issue is whether allowing FASNY to do so on Parcel A creates and negatively impacts the residents of White Plains, and the residential neighborhoods most directly affected by FASNY’s proposal, in terms of their health, safety, welfare and morals. It’s like a lobster dinner. People may say it’s in excellent taste and of the highest quality, but if I am allergic to shellfish I can’t have it on my plate or swallow any deadly bit of it. FASNY’s traffic, and the traffic of people trying to skirt around it, is my lobster dinner. AND I AM NOT BITING.

I have lived in my home at the corner of Heatherbloom and Hathaway since 1996, more than 20 years. Don’t tell me that having FASNY develop land across from my home and down my street will improve the value of my home or the home of my neighbors, particularly when I know that the land is the subject of a restrictive covenant, filed in City property records, roughly 90 years old, that limited development to the construction of a golf course, buildings appurtenant to such a course, and single-family homes, and expressly prohibited the use of the land for any other institutional use. Don’t tell me FASNY’s fine “educational institution” that was described on its website a few years ago, when I last wrote you about the issue, is not an “institution” merely because FASNY removed the word “institution” from its webpage.

Don’t pretend that paved and black-topped parking spaces for several hundred cars and scores of school buses in my neighbors’ backyards is a great deal for those taxpaying homeowners, or that the cue of buses and cars encircling their homes or running behind their backyards should somehow be seen as an amenity.

Please don’t kid yourself, or me, about the benefits of the ever-shrinking “conservancy” FASNY claims to have bestowed on us. You and I both know its “gift” comes with claw-back provisions, which makes the gift ephemeral or illusory. And by the way, even if the “gift” did not come with strings attached, or could not be yanked back at FASNY’s whim, would making such a gift entitle FASNY to get its way and jeopardize the safety of White Plains residents?

 

Please don’t mock us by suggesting local residents gain value by having buildings the size of three Super Stop and Shop stores interrupt the views from homes they have lived in for up to 50 years. Don’t try to argue that FASNY can do what it wants to the Little People because it happened to buy some land and has financial muscle to try to intimidate this Council.

Don’t let FASNY trample the plans our City’s leaders have created for the reasonable, sustainable development of land, and preservation of natural, open spaces to the extent possible. Don’t kid yourself to think FASNY knows the impact of its development of Parcel A would have on the Mamaroneck River or communities existing downstream from Parcel A, when FASNY claims not to know or did not know about a berm or dam on the golf course and about buried streams or waterways on its property, and prefers to rename those streams with a less-impactful designation as a gimmick to try to obtain simple-majority approval of its development scheme for what is now, and always has been, and Environmentally Sensitive Site.

Don’t tell me that the cut-through traffic of teenage drivers and time-pressed commuters that will be diverted in front of my home and along hairpin turns along Heatherbloom, Oxford, Hathaway, Hotel, Heather Lane, will be something that will become acceptable, from a safety standpoint, under any scenario, merely because FASNY folks are willing to kick pocketmoney into a scholarship kitty.

Don’t pretend that the safety of my neighbors taking their three-year old for a walk or infant for a stroll in a carriage, or my ability to offer my elderly mother a chance to walk around my home, will not be impacted by traffic pouring into my immediate neighborhood as a result of FASNY school programs, or private-money making events that will take place if tax-exempt FASNY makes its property for available for commercial uses, such as it promises to do in the future and has done in the past (e.g., renting space for movie filming (The Girl On The Train), or sports events, or catered affairs).

In the event some people who reside beyond walking-distance of the former Ridgeway Golf Club property actually travel to my neighborhood to visit that property and then park on the narrow, frequently winding and unstriped streets of my neighborhood, about which Traffic Expert Mary Manning spoke at the Public Hearing, don’t pretend that I should have a reasonable expectation of safety as I walk to visit neighbors, or my house of worship, and people operating cars, or walking their pets, or kids on training wheels and I try our best to navigate around each other and the parked cars that would clog our streets.

Maybe it is just me and I am skittish or skeptical —I was nearly hit by a car this morning as I exited my car and walked across a City parking lot to take public transportation to my job. Or maybe I am still thinking about a friend of mine whose teenage son totaled the family car when traffic backed up and suddenly stopped when he was heading down Bryant to WPHS one morning. Or about another friend whose son got into an accident when, after dropping off my boys after school one day, he approached the intersection of Bryant and Hathaway and his car got clipped by a car and spun 180 degrees by a driver who came from over the crest of the hill on Bryant, did not see him quickly enough, and did not have time to avoid hitting him. Or maybe I am thinking of the memorial to the 19- year old killed when he crashed into the pole across from the Ridgeway Golf Club and next to Westchester Hills Golf Club, just about where traffic will be turning off Ridgeway to the proposed FASNY complex if FASNY’s application is approved. Or maybe I am just dwelling on the thought of the memorial to the WPHS student who crashed his car, and nearly caused the death of several passengers, in an accident on North Street south of St. Agnes Hospital, and of my friend’s son who served as a pallbearer for his classmate’s funeral. Or, like in the matter Donna Klein discussed when her young son barely missed getting struck by a parent racing her kid to private school, I can’t get past the scary stories my youngest son relayed to me about near-misses he had when riding to or from WPHS on his bike, or while trying to cross from the sidewalk on the north side of Bryant to the southside of it to make his way home.

Conclusion: Just Say No
At the end of the day, at the end of the Public Hearing, and at the end of the Comment Period, you can’t wish away reality. The reality is that FASNY’s current plan for the development of Parcel A, — and FASNY’s for the development or re-sale of Parcels B, C, and D, which has not yet been disclosed and which violates principles against segmentation — is unworkable, unsafe, and untenable. It would be proper, fitting, and not “arbitrary and capricious” for the Common Council to reject FASNY’s application. See, e.g., N.Y. City Coal. for the Pres. of Gardens v. Giuliani, 175 Misc. 2d 644, 658–59, 670 N.Y.S.2d 654, 664 (Sup. Ct. 1997), aff’d sub nom. N.Y. City Coal. for Pres. of Gardens v. Giuliani, 246 A.D.2d 399, 666 N.Y.S.2d 918 (1998) (The issue is resolved by acknowledging that, upon weighing all relevant factors, the City Council’s decision in this regard is rational and not arbitrary, capricious or a violation of the law); see also Smyles v. Bd. of Trustees of Inc. Vill. of Mineola, 120 A.D.3d 822, 823–24, 992 N.Y.S.2d 83, 85 (2014) (although a denial of a special use permit must be supported by evidence in the record and may not be based solely upon community objection, Board of Trustees was entitled to base its decision upon, among other things, its members’ personal knowledge and familiarity with the community, and reports from experts in traffic and real estate, and testimony from neighboring property owners, and  where evidence supporting the denial exists, deference must be given to the discretion of the authorized board, and a court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the authorized board, even if a contrary determination is supported by the record. The Board’s determination to deny a special use permit on the ground that it would not be in the best interests of the health, safety, and welfare of the community was supported by the record, and was not arbitrary and capricious.)

Accordingly, for the good and many reasons stated so persuasively by so many good and reasonable, taxpaying, and voting residents of the City of White Plains, and by traffic, safety, and legal experts retained by the Gedney Association, who have tendered written submissions and spoken at Public Hearings concerning FASNY’s present application and its predecessor applications, my family, my neighbors and I urge you to deny FASNY’s current application (Plan III) for the development of Parcel A.

Respectfully submitted,

Claudia G. Jaffe, Esq.

[1] Cornell Univ. v. Bagnardi, 68 N.Y.2d 583, 595, 503 N.E.2d 509, 515 (1986), states, in relevant part, the following:

 
The controlling consideration in reviewing the request of a school or church for permission to expand into a residential area must always be the over-all impact on the public’s welfare. Although the special treatment afforded schools and churches stems from their presumed beneficial effect on the community, there are many instances in which a particular educational or religious use may actually detract from the public’s health, safety, welfare or morals. In those instances, the institution may be properly denied. There is simply no conclusive presumption that any religious or educational use automatically outweighs its ill effects (Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue v. Incorporated Vil. of Roslyn Harbor, 38 N.Y.2d 283, 292, 379 N.Y.S.2d 747, 342 N.E.2d 534 [Breitel, Ch.J., concurring], cert. denied 426 U.S. 950, 96 S.Ct. 3171, 49 L.Ed.2d 1187). The presumed beneficial effect may be rebutted with evidence of a significant impact on traffic congestion, property values, municipal services and the like.
5 Thus, educational and religious uses which would unarguably be contrary to the public’s health, safety or welfare need not be permitted at all. A community that resides in close proximity to a college should not be obliged to stand helpless in the face of proposed uses that are dangerous to the surrounding area. Such uses, which are clearly not what the court had in mind when it stated that traffic and similar problems are outweighed by the benefits a church or school brings (Matter of Westchester Reform Temple v. Brown, 22 N.Y.2d 488, 496–497, 293 N.Y.S.2d 297, 239 N.E.2d 891, supra ), are unquestionably within the municipality’s police power to exclude altogether. “[E]ven religious [and educational] institutions [must] accommodate to factors directly relevant to public health, safety or welfare, inclusive of fire and similar emergency risks, and traffic conditions insofar as they involve public safety [citations omitted]” (emphasis supplied).

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Hezi ArisUrging White Plains Mayor Roach and the Common Council to Reject FASNY’s Most Recent, Incomplete, and Innapropriate Plan
By CLAUDIA G. JAFFE, Esq.

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