Residents who live near a proposed expansion at Saratoga Hospital remain opposed to the construction of a new medical office building. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard attended a packed public meeting Thursday night.
A sign in the parking lot outside the Saratoga Springs Planning Board meeting Thursday night read “Emergency: Homes at Risk.”
The city council has asked the Planning Board for an opinion on a set of zoning changes to bring the city into compliance with its Comprehensive Plan.
One item would change a residentially-zoned parcel near Saratoga Hospital to commercial. That’s where the healthcare provider is seeking to build a medical office complex. It’s not the first time the hospital on the city’s growing West Side has pursued expansion.
The first to speak at the public hearing was former Saratoga Springs city councilor Chris Mathiesen. He called the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan with the proposed zoning change for the parcel near the hospital a “mistake.”
“And so in 2016 I brought before the city council a motion to amend the Comprehensive Plan to change that parcel back to residential. It didn’t go very far because two members of the council recused. I would ask that the Planning Board make the recommendation to the city council that the map be amended, that this revert back to residential use, otherwise I believe you’re creating a lot of problems in terms of traffic, and I think the most important thing is that you’re adversely affecting a neighborhood,” said Mathiesen.
It was standing-room only inside the temporary city hall at the city’s recreation center on Vanderbilt Avenue.
City resident David Evans sought to bring attention to the number of people in the audience opposed to the hospital expansion.
“Just by a show of hands can I just see the neighbors that are opposed to this? We are not a small group, for the record. We have been called a small group, we are not a small group. We are a huge group that takes this very seriously,” said Evans.
Concerns range from falling property values to traffic. Resident Ina Harney said when she moved into the neighborhood near the planned expansion in the 1980s, visitors would remark at how quiet things were. Today, she says, that’s changed.
“At least once a day, somebody comes flying up the hill as I’m pulling out of my driveway. As they come around the corner from the hospital and from that area, there’s a stop sign. Heaven forbid they should stop at the stop sign if they don’t see a car…so it’s impossible to get out of my road,” said Harney.
Attorney Claudia Braymer representing a group of more than three dozen neighbors asked the Planning Board to make certain recommendations.
“I have a few points on the legal side that I want to make, but the bottom line is that we recommend that you deny the change from residential to commercial for Parcel Number One. We also ask that you recommend to the city that they separate out Parcel Number One so that its review and consideration can proceed independently from the other changes,” said Braymer.
Not everyone at the meeting opposed the zoning change.
Kevin Ronaye, Vice President of Operations and Facilities at Saratoga Hospital, gave several reasons why the hospital is considering the property adjacent to its main campus.
“We like Morgan Street as a place for medical offices, as a place to consolidate those physicians, to make it more efficient, to allow those physicians to collaborate, it was close to the hospital, it’s walkable, and it’s also close enough that we can connect our infrastructure,” said Ronaye.
Ronaye pointed to prior decisions by the Planning Board and Comprehensive Plan committee to accept the zoning changes as part of the Comprehensive Plan.
Renee Russell, Director of Saratoga Hospital’s radiation and oncology program, said expansion would enhance services for patients.
“Cancer treatment in our community continues to grow. Some have suggested that we should build our medical offices somewhere else, like the parking lot across from the hospital’s emergency department. That is financially irresponsible. To build there we would need to build a parking garage at the cost of upwards of $15 million. Our treatment machine and new vault costs $6.3 million,” said Russell.
The Planning Board was not scheduled to make a decision on the zoning changes Thursday, so discussion and meetings continue.