Zoning Schmoning – we can get around that!

Zoning – Schomning!  That’s what a lot of developers and buyers with deep pockets are saying these days….

In a world increasingly divided between the have mores and the have nots, and municipalities struggling to make ends meet – those with deep pockets feel that minor incidentals such as “zoning” and a “city planning”  are small obstacles to be pushed aside with relative ease.   All they have to do is purchase a property – zoning not withstanding – plant their flag and impose their “vision” for the future of the land on the community.

  1. Zoning – Who cares? We’ll just threaten litigation if the city refuses us.
  2. Declining Property Values? Change is inevitable -  so if a few people get “hurt” in the name of progress – that’s life.
  3. City Planning? – We bought the land – the city will just have to change its “plans!”

FASNY – The French American School of New York is a case in point….

For those who don’t know the story – FASNY bought the Ridgeway Golf Club in late 2010 with the intention of putting a large campus on the grounds.  There were several problems with this plan, which doubtless the buyer were aware of at the time of purchase.

  • The plan did not conform to current zoning.
  • The land was environmentally sensitive – with extensive wetlands.  This is how it came to be a golf course to begin with.
  • The plan does not conform to the city master plan for that area.
  • The neighborhood was not built to sustain the type of traffic a campus with 1200 students would impose.  It would turn a quite bucolic area into a heavily trafficked nightmare.
  • Many homeowners in the are would have things like parking lots and ball fields and buildings gracing the edge of their back yards – where there once stood a golf course – decimating home values for a large portion of the area.
  • A school is of course non-profit – so not taxes could ever be levied – no matter what expense the school incurs on White plains residents.   The city of White Plains would have to pay for massive infrastructure changes including – new sewer lines, new drainage systems.  The electrical grid would have to be completely overhauled.  Roads would have to be widened, new traffic lights put up on what were once quiet intersections.  Ongoing outlays would include  additional police, fire, medical, and sanitation services, traffic support including crossing guards on an on-going basis.
  • Should any of this development result in flooding – a distinct possibility given the nature of the land -  the city itself could also face lawsuits from neighboring towns if any new development – not-for-profit notwithstanding – causes problems “downstream”.   That’s a lot of risk for the city to take on.

All of this expense and risk  to accommodate something a development that the property isn’t even zoned for?  My first question was what drugs were the FASNY officials taking when they thought they could get away with this and signed the contracts?  But apparently – to FASNY – these are trivial issues.

Money equals hubris….

It became painfully obvious that FASNY came to the table with their litigators lined up and ready to  sue.  Any school where the minimum tuition for one child is over $20,000 has deep pockets.

  • Already, their attorney has sneaked tape recorders into meetings and used portions of conversations to build their case.   This is not the sign of friendly negotiations – but a sign that they are already playing hard-ball.
  • They have already indicated that the six month moratorium imposed on developing several environmentally sensitive land masses in the area is directed “against them.”  Another sign of hard-ball and a path to litigation.  Of course a moratorium was put in place!  There are several such tracts of land potentially in play.  What the city does with the FASNY property  sets the precedent as to how the development of the rest of that land is managed when the time comes.   The FASNY development does not exist in a vacuum.  This is something they should have thought of before purchasing the property.
  • They have slapped “no trespassing” signs all over the place and have threatened to have any one arrested should they step foot on the golf courses that  local residents have walked freely upon for over 70 years.  I walked those golf courses every day as a child. Dale Carnegie would not be proud of a move like that.
  • They’ve insulted our schools indicating that their presence would add “culture” to our obviously inferior educational system.
  • They claim that because they are a “School” they have to be accommodated.  Doubtful.  A private school with very well-heeled families is hardly in need of such accommodation and I doubt very much that state law precedent would be ruling in their favor in that regard.  Such ordinances were applicable to public schools and perhaps schools for the disadvantaged.
  • Their “plans” seem to be growing incrementally from the earliest renderings offered at the “get together” for the residents (more like a propaganda meeting) in Jan 2011.  Below are renderings of the early plan and the most recent.  The “invasion” into the community itself has increased significantly in less than six months.

So does FASNY fit the criteria for the monied developer trying to muscle their way around local zoning?

  1. Deep pockets?  – Check.
  2. Arrogant as hell? – Check.
  3. Trying to to find any hook available to have local zoning ordinances overturned? Check.
  4. Threatening the community with litigation and other bully-boy tactics?  Check.
  5. Have they hired major PR firms to paint the local community in a bad light?  Check.

Can the City Council  let FASNY do this?

To me the answer is absolutely NO!  I will site three major reasons for this stance.

  • People bought their homes in good faith and if they did their due diligence – they did so after examining the ZONING.  If the zoning of the city of White Plains becomes merely a suggestion, this will impact home prices throughout the city.  You permit the undermining of city planning and zoning ordinances at your peril.  You think you have a lawsuit issue now – how about ten more down the road once  you have established a precedent for caving to pressure.
  • The city of White Plains has just worked its way through a fiscal crisis. We are still facing cutbacks in our city and school budgets.   There is no excuse for the city council to give the green light to a development that will cost the city dearly to accommodate  and give nothing back in terms of revenue.   How do you explain to a resident earning $50,000 that their taxes are going up – again – to accommodate a school that charges $22,000 (or 44% of their income)  a year in tuition while our own school system is in the middle of major cutbacks?
  • This type of manipulation of zoning codes has the potential to impact everyone in the city.  For those in White Plains who think this is a south-end issue – think again.   If one property owner can trample over zoning ordinances – what’s to prevent another developer from buying up land or buildings  in your area and attempt something equally egregious.

Please NOTE – That the City Council is Meeting Tonight at 7:30 PM at City Hall 255 Main Street in White Plains.  Those interested in the status of this project and the moratorium should plan to attend. The last time such a meeting took place FASNY families overwhelmed the council chamber.  So their voices were heard.  Since they scarfed up all the chairs  – elderly residents were forced to leave before they could comment.  I had to stand for 3 hours to speak for 5 minutes.   Get there early – we should NOT let them monopolize a meeting like that again.

 

 

© 2011 – Ruthmarie G. Hicks – http://thewestchessterview.com – All rights reserved.



 

  1. Ruthmarie Hicks

    This is a test to see what I require for comments.

  2. Ellen Alzerez

    Thank you for your strong advocacy against the FASNY monstrosity. Your blog on this matter is terrific, hitting all the salient points. Also appreciate your speaking at the 7/5/11 Common Council scoping meeting. I live on the RCC side of Ridgeway, just a few doors from the clubhouse, and I will be one of those homeowners directly and negatively impacted by FASNY’s proposal.

    Ellen Alzerez

  3. Ruthmarie Hicks

    I’m sorry about the location of your home! What can I say? My family lived in Gedney for many years – but don’t live their now. So I have no major “vested interest” in property in that neighborhood, which allows me to speak out without being a NIMBY. At the same time, I know the area well enough to “get” how serious the impact would be. Other people don’t because they don’t understand how narrow the streets are and the fact that it is already packed with cars in the early morning and mid-afternoon because of all the schools in the area.

    The difficulty here began when Mayor Delfino gave up the “right of first refusal” for the Golf Club. It progressed as the economy faltered. But what I see here, looking at the big picture for the city as a whole, is a major zoning issue.

    Developers are forever trying to find a way to bend the rules. In some cases this makes sense. In others – it does not. However, if the city caves again to bully-boy tactics (which is what the litigation threat is) you will have a hundred developers salivating over what they can do with other major parcels. Fighting one lawsuit today could spare the city 10 tomorrow.

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