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October 19, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

White Plains Common Council approves French-American School

An early rendering of the campus.

The White Plains Common Council on Monday night approved a plan by the French-American School of New York to build a campus on the former site of Ridgeway Country Club, ending a controversial seven-year review process.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution approving the site plan for a 640-student school for grades 6 through 12 on a parcel of the 129-acre property previously developed by the golf course with parking, tennis courts and athletic fields. The school will also create and maintain a 51-acre nature conservancy with bike trails open to the public.

That plan is scaled down from the school’s original proposal. In 2010, the school bought the former country club for $11 million and unveiled plans a year later to consolidate its Larchmont, Scarsdale and Mamaroneck campuses into new facilities on the property.

The school’s original plan was for a five-building campus for students from preschool through 12th grade and a 78-acre nature conservancy.

The reduced plan came out of a legal settlement between the school and White Plains. The school challenged the city’s review process in state Supreme Court in September 2015, a month after the council voted down a motion to close a part of Hathaway Lane near the property. The city council had previously approved an environmental impact statement for the project that required the road’s closure.

In April 2016, state Supreme Court Judge Joan B. Lefkowitz denied a motion from the city to dismiss the school’s lawsuit and accused the council of waging a “war of attrition” through the protracted review process.

Five months later, the Common Council approved a settlement agreement with the school. The city agreed to review the school’s reduced plan, with oversight from the state court.

The school’s plan has been strongly opposed by some White Plains residents near the golf course property, led by the Gedney Association, a group representing the Gedney Farms neighborhood. The neighbors have fought the project over concerns that it is too big for the neighborhood and would damage an environmentally sensitive site.

The scaled-back plan features fewer students from the original 950 to a maximum of 640. Hathaway Lane, a previous sticking point, remains open.

The city council’s approval came with some additional stipulations. The school agreed to a 15-year moratorium on any expansion of school facilities on three parcels of the property not used by the campus. The school will also provide community benefits, such as need-based scholarships to White Plains residents.

Because the site was designated as environmentally sensitive, the approval required a super-majority of five votes from the seven-member council. Council members Milagros Lecuona and Dennis Krolian voted against the proposal. Lecuona praised FASNY as an institution, but said the current proposal was unacceptable.

Ultimately the swing vote came from Nadine Hunt-Robinson, who voted against the project in past motions.

Hunt-Robinson said the review process helped create a better proposal on a smaller scale and more community benefit.

“This is how it is supposed to work,” Hunt-Robinson said. “We are supposed to have that push, that pull. That give and take.”

Mayor Thomas Roach described the school’s review as the most thorough in his time with the city. He said the plan has been modified to maximize community benefits while mitigating the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

“I don’t minimize the serious nature of a project of this size on the community and I do recognize that many in the neighborhood will be very unhappy with the decision that we are making here this evening,” Roach said. “But I do think it’s important to note that this was not done in a cavalier fashion.”