Zoning & Planning and why it matters in White Plains NY

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FASNY White Plains NYOver the past few months I have written several times about the now infamous  Gedney Farms  vs. FASNY issue.    For those not in the know – the private French American School  (FASNY) is seeking a special permit to build a 1200 student K-12 campus in the Gedney neighborhood.  I have been on record as being against the project. I have written a couple of posts to this effect outlining my concerns for the neighborhood and the implications for the future building prospects on other large tracts of land that have yet to be developed.

Over time, circumstances change and neighborhoods often have to change with them.

This is very true and can not be denied.  Change is the only constant in life. Nothing stays the same  Neighborhoods who are not open to any change will be left behind going into the future.   But that does not necessarily mean that every change proposed by a developer is  always good or even desirable.    Developers and  landowners generally  are looking to get the most out of the property in terms of dollar value and this runs head long into the needs of the neighborhood and surrounding homeowners.   Of course this leads to clashes and conflicts of interest.

When buyers purchase a home – they are buying the neighborhood and the lifestyle.

In the case of the FASNY proposal – the school would present a monumental change to the neighborhood that would alter it forever.   The difficulty here is that it would definitely impact home values and that impact would range from a moderate reduction in home values for properties not directly adjacent to the facility  to severe depreciation  issues for about 40 homes that are in the “line of fire.”  I don’t care how FASNY tries to spin this situation.  The single family homes for which the property zoned for would be far better for the overall value of the surrounding homes than a large school and the facilities proposed.  The traffic issues alone are cause for concern, but the sheer size of the facility and the parking required  is just over the top.

Buyers bought their home in good faith and understood that the golf course might be sold someday.  They imagined the possibility of low density housing as per current zoning regulations  – not a facility that would bring 1200 cars twice a day that has several massive buildings,  baseball fields, tracks, soccer fields complete  with dugouts, lighting  and  lets not forget parking for close to a 600 cars.   This type of development is a total betrayal of the zoning and its intention.   Homeowners are up in arms and who can blame them?

Does that mean all change is bad?

No, not necessarily.  Times change and the needs of the community change with it.   There is nothing wrong with that.   One problems facing some suburban areas is the growing popularity of walkable neighborhoods.  Some areas that prided themselves about being purely residential may have to accept light commercial construction in the form of shops and dining or become dinosaurs of a bygone era where the car was king and everyone drove to buy so much as a quart of milk.

Small subdivisions which add a few homes here and there should be encouraged.  A slight increase in density puts more homes on the tax rolls without interfering with the underlying character of the area.  It also allows property owners to mitigate the losses sustained in this terrible market.

Keep your eyes on the prize – its the big picture that matters…

Many small projects are trounced by overly enthusiastic environmentalist types – who can claim to have won a battle.  But in the end this makes them lose the war.  By focussing on  what they can win – they often lose credibility  and fail to win the battles that must  be won.    Rather than being labeled trouble makers and tree huggers, citizens who are worried about open space should focus their attention on developments that would cause significant harm to wetlands or the character of a neighborhood.  Although I am a noted tree hugger – we have to know when to hole ’em and know when to fold ’em.

What is the big picture?

In White Plains it is the large tracts of undeveloped land in the south end of town that include the Ridgeway Golf Club (now owned by FASNY)  The Westchester Hills Golf Club, the land owned by New York Presbyterian that encompasses about 300 acres, the Burke Rehabilitation Center, among others.

These areas contain delicate wetlands near major flood zones that extend through the south end of our city and into our  neighboring towns and villages  – most notably  Mamaroneck which has been hit hard several times in the past few years.  Should White Plains “get it wrong” with respect to development we could expect severe flooding in the south end  of town as well as litigation from our neighbors to the south.   FEMA has been active in  the town of Mamaroneck twice in the past four years.  Most recently in the wake of Irene.

First, do no harm….

White Plains needs to get this right.  Too many large tracts of land are at stake. They need to respect the zoning ordinances in place when people bought their homes.  Changes where needed, need to conform to the character and intention of the original ordinance while  allowing for changes when those ordinances are no longer practical or doable. If White Plains isn’t careful they will find that zoning regulations  will become mere suggestions with loopholes the size of the grand canyon for developers to march through.  The city has  to avoid a free-for-all among developers at all costs. Further, the council needs to show that it will stand pat against the threat of frivolous litigation when frustrated developers fail to get everything they want.   And in all cases White Plains needs to ensure that  ensure “do no harm.”  particularly with respect to flood planes both local and  further afield

Further Reading:

Zoning Schmoning – we can get around that!

© 2011 – Ruthmarie G. Hicks  – https://thewestchesterview.com – All rights reserved.

Please feel free to contact me anytime to request additional information or to set up an appointment so we can explore your listing or purchasing needs. I am easy to reach by phone, text or email. Or, if you just want to continue your search online, the links below will help you get started.

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