FAQs - Myth vs Fact

French-American School Response to
Gedney Farms Newsletter Inaccuracies

We are very excited about the response we have been receiving throughout White Plains to our plan to turn the defunct private Ridgeway Country Club in the heart of White Plains into a school campus and publicly accessible nature conservancy. The 53-acre school campus will bring a great new bilingual, culturally diverse school to the City. The 78-acre Greens to Green Conservancy will transform a failed golf course into a natural open space, featuring bird habitats, meadows, educational opportunities and miles of walking trails, benches and other public amenities. It will be maintained and secured by the School full-time at no taxpayer expense.

We understand that there are potential impacts from our plans, particularly on the local Gedney neighborhood. Most of the impacts we believe will be positive, compared to what else would be developed on the site. As part of the rigorous and thorough SEQRA process, we have put together a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), that is more than 500 pages long, which analyzes all the possible impacts and identifies solutions for them.

Unfortunately, rather than engage in a substantive conversation about the School, the Gedney Association has mailed out an 8-page anti-FASNY booklet that is full of wild exaggerations and falsehoods.

The Gedney Association newsletter suggests that our plan to build a school and nature conservancy on a defunct golf course would result in:
  • Layoffs of firefighters and police
  • Lower property values
  • Emergency vehicles unable to reach people in time
  • The doubling of White Plains rush hour traffic
  • Increased rates of cancer in White Plains
  • Massive flooding throughout White Plains and southern Westchester

Rather than let this misinformation go unchallenged, we offer the following comments with respect to the most blatant of the misstatements. Additionally, we urge all interested residents to read the DEIS and decide for themselves whether the project benefits outweigh any potential costs or alternatives.

Gedney Claim: The French American School will mean huge deficits and either deep cuts in city services or tax increases for White Plains.
FASNY Fact: The School will have a positive economic impact on White Plains while providing an open space nature conservancy worth over $10 million to the City at no cost to taxpayers.

The French-American School, like other non-profit schools, churches and organizations in the City, is exempt from paying property taxes. When Ridgeway was last an operating golf course in 2010, it paid approximately $278,000 to the City in property taxes, which represents less than one-half of 1% of the $103 million White Plains collects in property tax revenues. To put it in perspective, that amounts to $5 per resident.

The reality is that the economic benefit to the City of White Plains from the FASNY Campus in White Plains and the FASNY community living and spending money in White Plains will far exceed any lost annual property taxes FASNY might pay on the Property. As it has done at its other campuses, FASNY is committed to supporting local businesses in purchasing goods and services.
Additionally, FASNY is providing, maintaining, and securing an 78-acre publicly accessible nature Conservancy worth over $10 million at no cost to the City or taxpayers.

The last major open space purchase made by the City of White Plains was the 5.3 acre Greenway purchase for $1.75 million voted unanimously by Mayor Delfino and the Common Council in 2001. At this acquisition cost per acre, the 78-acre Greens to Green Conservancy, that FASNY is providing at no cost to the City, would be valued at $27.7 million.

Gedney Claim: The French American School will result in lower property values in Gedney Farms and thus less property tax revenue to the city.
FASNY Fact: Numerous studies suggest that schools and natures conservancies increase property values.

There is absolutely nothing to back up this claim. In fact, a number of studies suggest the opposite. Homes near open space/conservancies experience an increase in value. According to a study published by the Journal of Contemporary Economic Policy, proximity to natural open space (conservancy) can increase home values by up to 16%.

Additionally as FASNY parents seek to move closer to the School, they will push up demands for nearby homes and increase property values for those residents looking to sell. When FASNY first opened its Nursery School in Scarsdale, only 11 families lived in town. Within 5 years, 60 additional families had moved into town. Numerous studies show that schools increase home values.

Gedney Claim: Traffic from FASNY will double rush hour traffic and cause backups on Mamaroneck Avenue and North Street in addition to Ridgeway.
FASNY Fact: Twice a day, at drop off and pick up, there will be more traffic on Ridgeway, but FASNY has developed a traffic management system that will alleviate impacts at no cost to the City. Talk of massive traffic congestion throughout the City is wildly false.

This is a huge exaggeration. Will there be more cars on Ridgeway twice a day at drop off and pick up times? Yes, but our proposed traffic management system and infrastructure improvements will adequately address the increased traffic at morning peak hour and afternoon peak hour and traffic will flow. (During peak hour, there will be on average 10 entering vehicles per minute.)

The French-American School has used state-of-the-art traffic modeling software to identify potential traffic impacts. Using these tools, which we share in our EIS and at our open house, we have identified a set of roadway improvements, which are intended to avoid or minimize potential traffic impacts. These include contributing FASNY property to allow for the widening of Ridgeway, adding eastbound and westbound turning lanes, queuing cars and buses on the campus rather than the street for drop-offs and pick-ups, adding new traffic signals, and modifying multiple existing signals. FASNY will be responsible for paying for all of the infrastructure improvements at no cost to the City or taxpayers, approximately $1 million. In addition, FASNY would implement and strictly enforce a Traffic Management Plan, which would ban FASNY vehicles from cutting through the local neighborhood streets. The School will also stagger morning start and afternoon dismissal times for its three school divisions in 15-minute increments over the course of one hour to optimize vehicle flow.

Scarsdale Middle School, which is a similar size and has similar neighborhood characteristics, implemented a new traffic management plan that is very similar to our proposal and it has been working extremely well for the past 6 years. Well-designed traffic management plans do work and ours will work as well.

Gedney Claim: FASNY’s proposed Conservancy may not happen as it is only “aspirational” and will be only for FASNY, not the community.
FASNY Fact: The 78-acre publicly accessible Greens to Green Conservancy will be created at no cost to taxpayers as soon as FASNY wins approval for its plan. A conservation easement will legally ensure the conservancy remains permanent open space.

FASNY’s proposal is to create its educational Campus on only 53 acres of the property and transform the remaining 78 acres (almost two-thirds of the property) into the Greens to Green Conservancy, a publicly accessible nature conservancy for White Plains, which will be built simultaneously with the first phase of the campus. The Conservancy will be maintained and secured by the School at no cost to taxpayers or the City. These 78 acres will be a significant increase in the amount of public open space in White Plains. It will be the largest conservation easement in Westchester south of I-287, more than double the size of the largest current easement. The Conservancy will also be our backyard and outdoor classroom. We are committed to maintaining it as a secure and attractive amenity for our School and the residents of White Plains.

Opponents have repeatedly claimed that the conservancy we are proposing may not happen for years if at all. This is absolutely not true. Upon approval of our School, we will undertake the following steps:
  • Sign a legally binding conservation easement, which guarantees that the 78-acre conservancy will remain open space in perpetuity. Even if FASNY were to sell the property, it would have to remain open space forever.
  • Establish the Greens to Green Conservancy and open the 78-acre property to the public from dawn to dusk
  • Hire a Conservancy steward who will begin the process of transforming the property to an attractive and more natural habitat.
  • Maintain and expand the walking path network in the Conservancy
  • Put up signage to help Conservancy users navigate the property and for educational purposes
  • Create three small gravel parking lots for 4 to 6 cars to accommodate visitors
  • Agree to link our occupancy of the School to the opening of the Conservancy

As evidence of FASNY’s commitment, the school has already entered into an agreement with the Teatown Lake Reservation to conduct a site study. Overseen by Teatown’s Director of Conservation Science, Dr. Michael Rubbo, the study will include an analysis of habitat and meadow restoration and an evaluation of various strategies applicable to the site, including meadows, wetlands, ponds and forest restoration.

Our DEIS notes that there are many potential program elements that can be considered for incorporation into the Conservancy going forward that are not central to the creation and core functioning of the Conservancy including a propagation greenhouse and a community garden. These projects would be contingent on raising funds for specific projects, as occurs at other conservancies throughout the region. Regardless of the repeated claims of the Gedney Association, FASNY is making an absolute commitment to create the Conservancy when the School is approved. The DEIS clearly states both our commitment to the Conservancy and what will occur in each stage. Here is the verbatim text:

DEIS Executive Summary (page S-9)
FASNY intends to enter into a permanent, irrevocable conservation easement on the Conservancy that would allow educational uses and minor accessory structures (e.g., storage sheds) associated with FASNY but prohibit any residential subdivision on the Property. The conservation easement would be fully binding on FASNY and any successor in interest to the Property. A third-party, independent beneficiary that has yet to be identified, but could potentially be a land trust organization, and/or the City of White Plains, would be named in the conservation easement. The conservation easement "beneficiary" would have the authority to enforce the restrictions within the conservation easement on FASNY, and any successor in interest. The conservation easement would be recorded in proper legal form at the time of approval of the Proposed Project.

DEIS Executive Summary (pages S-12 and S-13)
Phasing of Master Plan Implementation

Master plan implementation would rely heavily on modifying land management practices rather than traditional construction activity. This being the case, FASNY intends to initiate changes to current maintenance activities that would begin immediately. FASNY has already ceased applying pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides to the Property. Through coordination with the City of White Plains, FASNY will develop an interim maintenance plan that will allow FASNY to attain its Conservancy goals while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing appearance across the Property. FASNY intends to target removal of invasive and undesirable plant species, as well as introduce native vegetation types appropriate for the Property and the defined habitat types. These initial efforts would not require construction activities or bringing in materials from offsite other than materials necessary for general land maintenance.

Stage 1
FASNY commits to providing the three (3) small gravel parking areas, enhanced maintenance and security, entry features and signage, outdoor classrooms, FASNY gardens, and maintenance of existing golf cart paths as walking trails with additional mowed paths within the Conservancy as part of Phase I of Campus construction. FASNY would also remove invasive species and introduce native species in former fairways and greens. A Conservancy “steward” would be also retained by FASNY and would coordinate restoration of the habitat areas in alignment with FASNY’s educational mission.

Stage 2
FASNY intends to implement the following aspirational elements of the Conservancy as funding becomes available: habitat restoration, wetland restoration, stream restoration, propagation greenhouse, community garden, seating areas, shade structures and storage sheds, rehabilitated bathrooms, observation deck and floating pier, and woodland boardwalk and outlook within the Conservancy as funding becomes available. It should be noted that the ultimate realization of certain of the elements shown in the Master Plan would also be dependent on the natural progression of ecological functions and growth cycles of plant materials.

Gedney Claim: FASNY is only talking about the conservancy to avoid discussion of its school plans.
FASNY Fact: FASNY has engaged in a robust community dialogue to inform White Plains residents about its plan for a School and Conservancy.

This is completely untrue. FASNY recently held an Open House to which it invited all residents of White Plains. We had a dozen informational booths where residents could learn more about the entire School, including booths specifically focused on our traffic management plans, building design, the site plan, hydrology, etc. Only one of the booths focused on the Conservancy. It is certainly true that for most White Plains residents the main impact of the School project will be their enjoyment of the nature Conservancy, but since purchasing the property in January 2011 we have engaged in a robust community dialogue explaining our School and Conservancy project. Our transparency and community outreach has been extensive including more than 100 meetings with community, business and civic organizations large and small across White Plains, and we will continue to do so.

Gedney Claim: FASNY will make local flooding worse and raises concerns about flooding downstream in Mamaroneck.
FASNY Fact: FASNY’s storm water management system and the end of golf course irrigation will vastly reduce flooding conditions for the first time in the property’s history.

This could not be further from the truth. FASNY’s plan for the Ridgeway property will vastly improve soil hydrology and reduce flooding for a number of reasons. First, the property will for the first time have a storm water management plan, which will include the creation of three storm water retention ponds, and other sustainable state-of-the-art water quality management and storm water treatment to capture any run-off and then slowly dissipate it into the groundwater over time. Second, golf courses are notoriously bad surfaces for storm water management. Continuous irrigation results in saturated soil that is then incapable of absorbing storm water (FASNY has already ceased irrigation with millions of gallons of water). Golf course soil becomes solidly packed making it much less absorbent. One of our strongest critics, whose property abuts the golf course, has even commented to the media that he has experienced less flooding since FASNY stopped irrigating the property.

The Conservancy vegetation will undergo a gradual transformation from the compacted soils and shallow root system of golf course grasses to a more diverse plant system of meadows and transitional shrub land species. The change in plant type and root system will result in a landscape that can absorb much more water and produce much less runoff during storm events.

Gedney Claim: There are better alternatives for the property including either finding a new golf course operator or allowing a developer to build a sub-division.
FASNY Fact: With the golf industry in a slump, FASNY is the best, most realistic green alternative for the property.

Ridgeway, like many country clubs throughout Westchester and the nation, faced serious fiscal problems. Membership had been declining for years. Efforts over a number of years to find a new public or private operator/owner for the golf course failed. In fact, there are 32 golf courses within a 10 mile radius of the former Ridgeway Country Club. The City of White Plains considered purchasing the property, but the proposal to have the City purchase the property failed by a 6-1 City Council vote. We strongly believe that our plan for a sustainably planned School and an 78-acre publicly accessible Conservancy is the best and most realistic green alternative for the defunct golf course and country club.

Finally, any for-profit real estate developer who purchased the property would seek to maximize density on the property. It is projected that 82 homes could be built on the property based on its current residential zoning. No private developer would set aside two-thirds of the property for publicly accessible open space, let alone create, maintain and secure a nature conservancy at their own cost.

Gedney Claim: The French-American School and Conservancy will require significant infrastructure costs by the City.
FASNY Fact: Any necessary infrastructure improvements will be paid for by FASNY.

No. FASNY is seeking no public subsidies for any of its infrastructure needs. The Conservancy will be maintained at no cost to the City. The efforts to upgrade the property’s storm water management system will be undertaken at no cost to the City. The same holds true for any traffic mitigation efforts. FASNY will pay in full for all infrastructure and other improvements necessary as a result of the new Campus and Conservancy.

We hope this clears up any confusion caused by our opponents’ wild claims. Please view the pages of this website and read our DEIS for additional information and analysis of our plans.

Thank you.