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Saratoga Neighbors Show Concern Over Proposed Hospital Expansion

City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis speaks at Tuesday's Saratoga Springs city council meeting
Lucas Willard
City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis speaks at Tuesday's Saratoga Springs city council meeting

People who live near Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs are again speaking out against a proposed expansion. The health care provider has revived plans for a new office complex adjacent to its main campus.

The story of neighborhood opposition to a proposed medical office complex at Saratoga Hospital dates back to 2015. At the time, the hospital was seeking a legislative zoning change from the Saratoga Springs city council. But that fell through after two city council members, Commissioner of Accounts John Franck and then-Mayor Joanne Yepsen, recused themselves due to conflicts of interest, denying the four-out-of-five supermajority vote needed to make the change.

Now, as the city seeks to update its zoning through the so-called Unified Development Ordinance, in order to bring zoning into compliance with a Comprehensive Plan approved in 2015, the hospital is trying again. Saratoga Hospital wants to build new medical offices and a 300-space parking lot near its main campus if a zoning amendment is approved.

That brings the story to Tuesday night, when hospital representatives made their appeal to the city council.

Dr. Joseph Bell, President of Saratoga Hospital’s Multi-Specialty Group, said one reason why office space close to the hospital on the city’s west side is important is immediate access to patients in an emergency.

“Currently, my office is about a half-mile from the hospital. And, as a surgeon, I’ve been called on many occasions to see patients in the E.R. suffering from major trauma or critically ill patients. And the time it takes to get to the hospital where I am currently can really mean important moments for patients’ outcome and survival,” said Dr. Bell.

Dr. G. Michael Ortiz, a urologist at Saratoga Hospital, echoed Dr. Bell’s sentiment. He recalled being summoned to the operating room from office space in Malta, a few miles away. 

“I was 20 minutes away. It could have meant life or death for this patient. Fortunately, I was able to get there and help them out. But I could tell you, like Dr. Bell said, it’s not an ideal situation. We need to be close, we need to be consolidated, it’s just good for our patients and everyone here,” said Dr. Ortiz.

Proximity was just one reason cited by supporters. But neighbors to the planned expansion remain opposed.

Amy DeLuca, who lives in the Birch Run neighborhood, said the development is going to be in her backyard.

“And I’m going to be looking at lights. And I’m going to be listening to noise and parking sounds and people moving around this parking lot behind me,” said DeLuca.

Neighbor Dennis Cote said he reviewed city records before buying his home in the same neighborhood.

“I looked at all the property and it also said that’s all residential. So I did my due diligence before buying my property. I paid good money for my property, I don’t want to say here how much. However, it’s going to be impacted by commercial development and that’s a cost I have to bear,” said Cote.

Other concerns raised by residents included traffic and storm water runoff.

Andy Brick, an attorney representing some of the residents, asked the city council to consider separating the zoning change for the parcel adjacent to Saratoga Hospital from the rest of the Unified Development Ordinance.

“It’s a significant issue. And, again, I’m not here to debate the merits, but the public interest alone…it deserves its own standalone review consideration, deliberation, and public comment period,” said Brick.

The last comment of the evening came from Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, who was a member of the committee that developed the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2015.

“I don’t believe that the 13 members of the Comprehensive Planning Committee agreed on anything for the most part. We fought over everything. Except for one item that I do remember very well, and that was this particular zone change for the hospital,” said Shimkus.

No vote on the Unified Development Ordinance was scheduled for Tuesday night. Mayor Meg Kelly called the issue a “work in progress.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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