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Ferncliff move from Yonkers to Greenburgh nixed, but who was behind the decision?
Westchester County’s political circles are still buzzing about the state’s decision last week to nix a plan to let Ferncliff, the Yonkers school for developmentally disabled children, move to county-owned land in Greenburgh.
“I was as shocked as all involved,” said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), who had been lobbying state officials to support the plan. “I was really shocked.”
A host of speculation has arisen in recent days about whether politics was behind the New York State Office of Children & Family Services’ decision, which cited Ferncliff’s high costs, elaborate construction plans and how the county-owned land had been designated in the past for affordable housing in its rejection letter.
Did Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo order the state agency to derail the plan to slight Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a potential Republican gubernatorial candidate in the future? Did Cuomo nix it because the Ferncliff proposal would have involved razing WestHELP, the homeless shelter he founded years ago at the site that now sits shuttered on the property?
Here’s another theory we heard, as related by a politico who asked not to be identified:
Larry Schwartz, who is now secretary to the governor, was a former deputy county executive in Westchester. Schwartz never got along with Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner. Both are Democrats. But Feiner is on the outs with numerous county Democrats, including his own town committee.
The pair’s most recent public disagreement involved Feiner’s idea of keeping the old Tappan Zee Bridge as a kind of cross-river park instead of demolishing it to make way for a new span. Schwartz wasn’t too pleased about Feiner’s attempt to tweak the governor’s marquee infrastructure project.
Feiner avidly supported Ferncliff’s plan because Greenburgh technically still has a lease to the county property. Under the school’s plan, the town would have received rental payments on the land for nearly 20 years in recognition of that lease until the land reverted back to the county.
The unnamed source said Schwartz basically wanted to snub Feiner, so he gave the Ferncliff plan the thumbs down.
Matt Wing, a spokesman for the governor, dismissed the unnamed source's claims. “The OCFS letter clearly outlines why this proposal was wrong on the merits, and any rumors to the contrary are just a distraction,” said Wing.
Who knows who snubbed whom? We know the state decision was a thumb in the eye to Feiner, Astorino, Paulin as well as other Democratic state lawmakers and the coalition of Democratic and Republican county legislators who supported the plan.
On the flip side, the decision was sweet vindication for Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), who had opposed Ferncliff’s plan on the grounds that the property was supposed to be used for affordable housing.
Feiner and Greenburgh officials are now proceeding with plans to let an affordable housing developer build on the site.