It's time for Westchester County lawmakers to get moving on Ferncliff Manor.
Months of rhetoric, finger-pointing and political wrangling have left students, teachers and families at this school for the developmentally disabled in Yonkers in legislative limbo. Meanwhile, New York State, which provides oversight, is telling the school it has to relocate because its current home, a former tuberculosis hospital with a line of trailers acting as classrooms, isn't suitable.
It's not. That's why Ferncliff -- which has 56 students, ages 5 to 21, from all over the region and with varieties of autism, severe brain impairments and behavioral issues -- has its sights on a former homeless shelter and transitional housing now vacant near Westchester Community College's campus in Valhalla. Complicating matters is that the six-acre property is owned by the county, but under the control of the Town of Greenburgh, part of a deal in the 1990s to build the shelter there.
Ferncliff proposes to invest $17 million in the property and pay the town $500,000 a year in rent in exchange for a 50-year lease, with most of its money coming from the state. Republican County Executive Rob Astorino supports the move, as do state legislators and Greenburgh officials, all Democrats. The town board, including Supervisor Paul Feiner, also a Democrat, approved Ferncliff's proposal unanimously last year.
The county's Board of Legislators also must sign off, but first it seems old political scores -- between local and county Democrats, and between Democratic legislators and Astorino -- must be put aside. Several Democratic county legislators remain opposed, saying they would prefer affordable housing at the site. Those on the fence say they might support the lease if the state guarantees the rent, creating a sort of Catch-22, since the state says the school must first secure county support.
So far, 10 county legislators -- seven Republicans and three Democrats -- are on board, but they need 12 votes, a supermajority, of the 17-member board to move forward. Just last week, the county board sent Astorino's lease proposal to three legislative committees. It deserves a fair vetting, not a slow bureaucratic death.
The Ferncliff relocation is indeed complicated; the state, county and town all play a role. But given its merits, lawmakers must resist petty differences and give it a full and proper airing.