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Ferncliff Uncomfortable in WestHELP Debate

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – A Yonkers school on the brink of closure has found itself in an uncomfortable position after being thrust into the middle of a brewing feud between Greeburgh officials and Westchester County legislators, school representatives said.

Just weeks away from having to present the state with its plans for relocation or risk being shuttered, Ferncliff Manor, a residential school for the developmentally disabled, has been forced to sit and wait as town and county officials debate a proposal to move the school into the former WestHELP lot.

“Ferncliff finds itself in the uncomfortable position of perhaps being caught up in something,” consultant for the school, Jim Cavanaugh, said Tuesday at meeting with the county’s Committee on Community Services.

“We don’t take a position on that,” he said of the dispute. “We don’t want to be involved in that.”

Ferncliff began looking for a new location after state officials announced the deteriorating Saw Mill River Road facility did not meet state standards. The school’s clock is ticking though, Cavanaugh said after the meeting, as Ferncliff has a meeting with state officials in June who are going to want to see progress in the search.

If the school’s cannot give the state an update, it may mean the 75-year-old school will be shuttered, leaving 250 employees without a job and 56 residential students searching for a new home, Cavanaugh said.

“If Ferncliff can’t find a new site they will ultimately have to close and the children who are there will probably be moved to facilities many, many miles away or in some cases out of state,” Cavanaugh said.

Greenburgh has proposed a 50-year agreement with Ferncliff for the former WestHELP site on the campus of Westchester Community College, property it leases from the county.  However, county legislators, who have the final say on the plan, have balked at the proposal , citing the terms of its lease with the town that demand low and moderate income housing is built on the site.

Several members of the Committee on Community Services said they sympathized with Ferncliff’s situation Tuesday before passing a resolution that directed County Executive Rob Astorino to set aside land on the undeveloped Grasslands Reserve for Ferncliff in the event it wants to build on the property.

If Ferncliff, who said they would consider the proposal, agrees, the solution would allow the WestHELP lot to remain open for affordable housing.

County Legislator Michael Smith (R-Valhalla), who voted against the plan along with Legislator Bernice Spreckman (R-Yonkers), criticized the resolution and urged the committee to make a definitive decision on Ferncliff’s WestHELP proposal.

“I think they deserve a vote,” he said of Ferncliff. “Let’s not kick the can down the road on this thing. If you don’t want them at the WestHELP facility take a vote and let them move on with their lives.”

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