FASNY Reveals Impossibility of White Plains Location
Dear Mayor Roach and members of the Common Council,
The DEIS and FEIS before you reveal FASNY’s proposal for a regional campus to be fatally flawed. Despite the withering smokescreen of thousands of pages of DEIS and FEIS in defense of the development, FASNY by its (non-) response to difficult questions posed by interested residents, the City’s Planning Commission and City Department Heads has run up a red flag of warning. One way for each of you to know that there is something terribly wrong with the proposal, is to observe just a couple of examples of the far-fetched and impractical measures that FASNY proposes to be taken to deal with ineluctable problems. Where there is smoke (screen) there is fire or something very wrong.
Finally after two years of public hearings and the SEQR process, FASNY has been forced to admit that barring extraordinary mitigating policies, the proposed regional campus will create insurmountable traffic congestion and public safety issues. FASNY’s response? FASNY proposes the seductive and unenforceable measure that it will institute “almost” mandatory student busing. Make no mistake. The assumption of universal student busing is sin qua non to FASNY’s fix of the traffic and related problems its proposed development will cause. How good is that assumption? Does it seem a natural component for this type of development? Will financially independent FASNY parents (after all, current tuition of high school junior and seniors is over $27,000.00 per year) accustomed to driving in the morning willingly comply? Is it enforceable as a matter of law or is it some abstract concept that may work in theory?
FANY has gone to the brazen step of changing the FEIS in a fundamental way presenting three ingress/egress options that have not been properly vetted. One interpretation of this FASNY strategy is that by presenting the three options they are seemingly complying with intractable traffic issues but the reality is that FASNY is offering the City Council a “Morton’s Fork” or triple bind. One of the options arrogantly “de-maps” portions of Hathaway Lane.
Far from finally, consider that addressing water problems in the immediate building areas require over 150 manholes, underground water retention reservoirs, and other abstract engineering proposals. Golf courses, especially ones dating from long ago, were constructed to take advantage of river bottom land and other natural wetlands where no development was ever expected to take place. For just a moment try closing your eyes and fix in your mind the concrete structures and attendant traffic associated with FASNY’s proposed development. The suggestion that FASNY’s physical presence would be the equivalent of over four and a half Stop & Shop grocery stores and represent the single largest development in all of White Plains may help to make the picture vivid.
The DEIS and FEIS devote entire chapters attempting to establish FASNY’s absolute right to be granted a special permit under the existing R1-30 zoning designation. The specious argument being floated is that FASNY’s proposal is an educational facility and educational facilities cannot be excluded from residential districts. Educational facilities presumptively serve moral and public welfare purposes, presumptively provide positive impacts and therefore enjoy special treatment with respect to zoning ordinances.
However, FASNY does acknowledge that the granting of a special permit remains with the municipality to issue on a case-by-case basis. In FASNY’s view, “the municipality is to balance competing public interests and attempt to cushion any adverse effect of an educational use upon a sensitive area by the imposition of reasonable conditions designed to mitigate them, thereby accommodating both public interests.” [DEIS Chapter 2, p. 2-32-33, 8/06/12] FASNY has sown the seeds of its proposal’s undoing.
Adopting FASNY’s view, it seems clear that the reason a special permit must be issued, even for a specifically designated permitted use under the zoning code, is to ensure that competing public interests are balanced. For instance, the successful Fordham University graduate campus is an educational use and needed a special permit for its location in an area designated for commercial offices. There surely was some opposition to the project because I do not believe any development in a diverse communities like West Harrison or White Plains would go unopposed. However, Fordham’s location would not pose significant traffic, water runoff and other problems that could not be reasonably resolved. After reasonable and credible measures were agreed to by the West Harrison and Fordham to mitigate adverse effects, a permit was issued. Fordham carried out the conditions for its permit and West Harrison was able to balance the various competing public interests. For its campus to work, Fordham did not have to rely on extraordinary transportation policies and engineering feats. The Fordham campus is not a commercial office park but permitting its location seems reasonable and fits nicely with neighbors.
FASNY like Fordham University is an educational facility and also requires a special permit for its proposed location. The existence of a required special permit even for projects falling under designated permitted use, enables the City Council to make distinctions in order to balance competing public interests. In the case of Fordham’s campus the adverse impacts could be mitigated by reasonable and credible means and therefore the special permit was issued. What about FASNY’s proposed location?
FASNY’s potential location at the former Ridgeway Country Club property in Gedney Farms presents a very different situation than the Fordham location. It is clear that FASNY is struggling with completely acknowledging the adverse impacts that its location will have on its immediate neighbors as well as the greater White Plains community. FASNY is struggling too to identify credible and reasonable measures that must be taken to mitigate adverse impacts. If solutions are not found and carried out, rather than a success like the Fordham location, FASNY’s location will be a complete, unmitigated disaster for them and White Plains.
Any decision by a municipality to issue a special permit carries risk of unexpected consequences and this is for at the time knowable and identified adverse effects. What about the future unanticipated negative effects? Common sense would seem to dictate that a special permit be denied any project that carries a number of risky features with significant potential negative effects dependent upon policies derived from wishful thinking. Got a traffic problem? Ok, we’ll say we just won’t drive! Problem solved.
A review of early drafts of the DEIS will demonstrate how one problem area, traffic, has evolved. Initially, FASNY’s opinion was that an entrance on Ridgeway Avenue and some minimal traffic light adjustments would be all that was required for their location. Now after various drafts of the DEIS and FEIS and public hearings and other information discovered during the SEQR process, FASNY acknowledges the enormity of the adverse effects its location will have on traffic and public safety and the paucity of measures available to counter these adverse effects. Instead of the initial statements by FASNY and its consultants that the existing transportation and traffic infrastructure was more than sufficient to handle its development, FASNY now throws up its hands and says it will require universal (almost) busing of students to reduce its adverse impact on already overloaded roads. It proposes in one option to build a traffic rotary on Ridgeway Avenue. Unable to come to grips with a location for the development’s entrance/exit that can sufficiently address potential adverse effects, FASNY abrogates its responsibilities and presents Council three options not properly vetted and basically tells Council to choose what Council thinks is the lesser of three evils.
FASNY acknowledges that a special permit is issued conditional on reasonable measures to be taken to mitigate identified adverse impacts. The fundamental assumption that FASNY has introduced into the FEIS to mitigate traffic congestion and safety issues is universal student busing. This is an extreme measure, contradicts all of their plans until recently, impossible to enforce and suggests that there is a genuine issue with its proposed location. There are a number of other difficult issues that I will not go into here but I am certain others will be writing to you.
There are a number of other permitted uses that would not create the havoc associated with FASNY’s development: a golf course, a 9-hole golf course with housing, single family homes. The Ridgeway property is not the right place for four and a half Stop& Shop stores or the Fordham University Graduate School campus. You could not make these places fit in the location and you cannot make FASNY’s development reasonably and credibly fit in either. A balancing of competing public interests demands that you vote no and deny FASNY’s request for a special permit. Thank you. Charles Diamond, Ph.D. (Economics)39 Hathaway Lane