Zoning Schmoning – we can get around that!

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605

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.

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.



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

Zoning Schmoning – we can get around that!



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Christine Koch
eXp Realty - San Antonio, TX
Realtor - eXp Realty San Antonio TX

This is such a serious issue and some like to think that their money trumps all.  Let us know how it turns out!

Jul 05, 2011 04:03 AM #1
Barbara Todaro
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Franklin, MA
Marketing Agent for The Todaro Team

Ruthmarie....schools and colleges are considered community facilities and I've never heard of a community that would require a special permit for that use....same with churches....those particular concepts can usually go anywhere....I've sold land to The Church of Latter Day Saints in a beautiful residential area....the neighbors could not prevent it...the building is beautiful....some might think it detracts from the area, but the zoning allowed it....the perimeter was buffered by a live fence of fast growing evergreens....

Jul 05, 2011 05:21 AM #2
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

Hi Christi - Yes it is a serious issue for this city because so many tracts of land are in play.

Hi Barbara - The precedent in NY is a bit different.  Accommodation applies to public schools not private.  Particularly such well-heeled private school. Why on earth should the tax payers of White Plains be on the hook for such monumental infrastructure changes for people who can plunk up millions for litigators, PR firms and bully-boy tactics?   The zoning as it sits definitely does not allow for this development.  FASNY knew this when they bought it and said that if they couldn't make it work - they would gladly sell the property.  Their tune changed the minute they took title.  I lived in this neighborhood and know the zoning well.  It is zoned for very low density with the majority of the land considerd undevelopable. And for good reason.  Given the the fact that two rivers run directly under the golf course and that  FEMA was relocating familes directly downstream of this location for months in 2007 due to flooding of said rivers - this has disaster written all over it.   Evey time it rains you are hip deep in water and mud. The town of Mamaroneck has threatend to sue if this land is developed and they have increased flooding.  Either way the city of White Plains gets sued.

Jul 05, 2011 05:51 AM #3
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

This is a difficult situation for White Plains and one that I was not aware of.  White Plains is finally starting to come back after being decimated by malls and big box stores and it would be a shame to have to face a lawsuit.

Jul 05, 2011 06:26 AM #4
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

Hi Joanna  -  White Plains has climbed back - but this type of situation could easily mushroom to include several large tracts of land that are environmentally treacherous in terms of development.   These areas became golf courses and open space (even though not necessarily city-owned)  for a reason!   As you know - Westchester has ongoing issues with flooding - and as more of it gets paved over - the issues surrounding each development get more sticky.  As to the nature of the development - it is not at all good for the neighborhood involved.  I don't care how you spin it - it will really decimate values in the areas immediately impacted and cause moderate to severe problems for the rest of the neighborhood in terms of property values.  Low density housing would NOT cause this problem in terms of values.  Though it would take a lot of scoping to determine how much could be safely developed.


 The trouble is that in recent years - several developers have been muscling their way around zoning issues in White Plains.  This was particularly true under May Delfino - who  THANK GOD has finally retired.  He wasn't paying any attention to the consequences and stuff like this is the result.  THe new mayor (following the Bradley fiasco) and the new council will have to establish the tone.  I don't think they are going to "roll over" as easily on these issues as Delfino did.

Jul 05, 2011 08:52 AM #5
Jim Frimmer
HomeSmart Realty West - San Diego, CA
Realtor & CDPE, Mission Valley specialist

Don’t master plans and zoning codes change all the time, though? In many places one can simply get a zoning variance. Developers do that all the time out here.

Jul 06, 2011 12:24 PM #6
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

But NOT granting a variance or special permit should not be grounds for a law suit.  The city has the right to say "NO" without fearing years of litigation.  No property owner should have the RIGHT to a variance.  It depends on the needs of the city and its master plan.  Cities deserve the right to say "this far and no further". Also a radical change in zoning like this will make many properties in the area nearly worthless.  Having a large home right next to a  baseball field is that is active with arch lights until 9-10 at night will simply RUIN the value of the home.  Ditto having an active parking lot right up to to your back door.

The bottom line here is that the city doesn't need it.  It doesn't want it.  Its not a public school.  It will ruin an neighborhood and give back NOTHING - in fact it will deplete the tax base AND cost the city millions in terms of infrastructure.  Further - this radical a change in zoning sends a signal to all developers that all they have to do is threaten litigation - and they can do whatever they want - the public good not withstanding.

Developers are salivating over several environmentally sensative properties in the area.  If they get the bee in their bonets that all they have to do is "sue" to do anything they want...you've got big trouble.

NYC was a PLANNED city - that meant saying "NO" to people who wanted to build in places like Central Park. Great cities are PLANNED - and are not allowed to grow "wild" and willy nilly on the whims of ever developer who has an itch to sue.



Jul 06, 2011 03:18 PM #7
Gail Robinson
William Raveis Real Estate - Southport, CT
CRS, GRI, e-PRO Fairfield County, CT

Ruthmarie - I live in a city (Bridgeport) where spot zoning ran rampant until our most recent Master Plan was approved.  Developers can still sway the City, but here it's not litigation that bothers us, it's the lure of more dense developments with higher taxes.  The private school you are talking about would not be of interest here as it wouldn't generate any taxes.  Our citizens also coalesce into groups to fight poor zoning decisions like this one, especially in my neighborhood.  In fact I've had developers approach me to market their properties in the hopes that I'll look the other way on zoning issues (not in my lifetime).  How easy is it to organize a citizen activist group in White Plains?  Is there one already formed against this project?

Jul 07, 2011 01:15 PM #8
EC, JF, Double R and Zoey the Cool Cat
Russel Ray Photos - San Diego, CA

Isn’t it always the big guy against the little guy? Let us know if the little guy wins!

Jul 07, 2011 04:31 PM #9
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

Hi Gail - You make some good points. First off - there is no question in my mind that this is a terrible plan for this neighorhood.  The area may have to give up the dream of finding another private golf club to take over the property. But this plan will simply ruin the area and it will make quite a large number of properties that sit along all the ball fields and parking lots - completely unsellable. Anyone on the wrong side of Gedney Esplanade, Hathaway Lane, Oxford Rd., Macy Ave. and Hotel Drive are SOL.

The FASNY people were trying to convince people that ball fields are a GOOD THING for property values.  No, not when your back yard is right by a dugout with lights and children running around and screaming.  That is never a positive for any property.  I think there area bout 20-25 properties that will have their values decimated if they go ahead.  The area itself has very narrow streets - the main drag has a double yellow line but is 2-lane.  There would be 1200 students along with faculty and staff - going down narrow roads in an area that already has six schools that clog traffic every morning and afternoon.  There is ZERO value to the city of White Plains for this.

Sadly - there are a lot of divisions in the city of White Plains.  What the FASNY group is doing is using that as leverage.  Gedney is considered the "upper crust" of White Plains.  So they have leveraged that by calling the homes "country estates" and the owners "rich crybabies angry about losing their golf course views."   They then have implied that the bill for the resulting lawsuit (if they don't get their way) will have to be footed by the residents of the entire city.   Unfortunately - this type of negative PR has some legs to it.  People in other parts of town are buying it...saying that the rich residents are causing problems for the city. 

Any lawsuit is an annoyance.  There are no real grounds.  The city council has the right to grant or NOT grant the permit.  But they will sue if they don't get what they want. Ironic that FASNY plays the "wealth card."  Most Gedney residents could never afford the $22,000 tuition they charge....Most of these people are from Scarsdale, Rye and Harrison and Larchmont - places where homes are about 35-45% higher in value.  So who are the rich crybabies?

Jul 07, 2011 04:47 PM #10
Marie Graham
Owner, The Refreshed Home White Plains NY - White Plains, NY
Westchester County Interior Decorator, Home Stager

Ruthmarie-as always, passionate, well-thought out and knowledgeable arguments.  Good points, glad you are using this platform to discuss.

Jul 11, 2011 08:43 AM #11
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

Hi Marie - This is sort of a resussitation  of the "spot zoning" issue that happened twice with Cappelli (Once for Trump and the Ritz and then again with rejected "Station Plaza")  I don't know if you remember the last one  which was supposed to bring another four towers like the Ritz and Trump to the train station area.  Water and flooding issues and neighboorhood anger brought that one down.  I don't think anyone liked that idea except Cappelli and the Mayor Delfino.  My thoughts were "the BRP FLOODS - a lot.  You have high-rise office buildings counting on that Parkway being open. What happens if its not?"  My guess was right through your neighborhood in a  bumper to bumper nightmare to get around the closed roads.  They would use 287 and cut across town. NOt a pretty sight. Yet some powers that be wanted to push it through.

The point is that cities really need to be planned.  People who buy property want to do things with the property - and that's fine as long as it doesn't hurt someone else, flood someone's basement and it conforms to the law. Variances should be granted when it makes sense for the property owner and the municipality.  The larger parcels have to be planned out so that everyone knows the rules before purchasing  - otherwise we are going to have a mess on our hands.

Jul 11, 2011 09:15 AM #12
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA

I believe that the separation of residential, commercial, and industrial space into separate pockets of land is going to be somehow modified. Many people want to live, work, and play in the same location. We see more and more communities in L.A. where people can work and live. 

Nov 01, 2017 09:26 PM #13
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

Inna, You obviously didn't even bother to read the article. You have no clue as to what you are talking about.

If you want to MODIFY ZONING then it should be done so  through a revision of the city's  comprehensive plan. Not random spot zoning that leaves the system up to the wallets of gold-digging developers or in this case, the whims of the filthy rich. 

This is a campus that is NOT for local children. It isn't even for needy children. Even if the local residents could afford the $30k+ tuition to send their children to this school, the requirements that the child be of French nationality and fluent in that language prior to kindergarten, would probably eliminate more than 99% of our current city residents. 

So how on earth is this complex that will generate massive traffic and disruption twice a day and on weekends and evenings supposed to help people live, work and play in this location? If anything, the traffic jams are going to make doing any of that harder. 

This project was given a thumbs down by the city's planning board, the conservation board, and the local board of education. It's going through anyway due to crony politics and a bunch of rich pampered  hedge fund managers who reside  OUTSIDE our city borders.  

Please READ articles before posting blather in the future. 




Nov 02, 2017 01:00 AM #14
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