My heart goes out to the people whose homes could be overshadowed by the proposed extension of Saratoga Hospital along with its three hundred car parking lot. As one of the people in the article explains, he bought his house with the understanding that it was in a residential neighborhood. Similar to the Moore Hall experience, imagine how you would feel if you had a similar experience to these homeowners.
Jenny Grey, I think, has written some of the best articles about city issues like this expansion of any reporter with the Saratogian. She also has been allotted a great deal of space for her stories. It is interesting that she had two very long, front page stories in Thursday’s edition on land use issues.
Here is her story on the Hospital proposal and citizen reaction:
Residents’ concerns prompt downsize of Saratoga Hospital expansion
By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> What do you get when you combine a cozy West Side neighborhood, a palatial estate, a growing hospital and a phantom moose? You get Saratoga Hospital’s request for a planned unit development (PUD) expansion, and you get a lot of concerned neighbors.
To consolidate physicians and patients in one space in close proximity to the hospital, and to provide better efficiency and patient care, Saratoga Hospital, located at 211 Church St. has proposed to construct a new medical office building on Morgan Street, solely for its physician employees and their staffs. The planned building would be constructed roughly 200 yards north of the hospital’s main location.
The original plan called for an 85,000-square-foot structure; now it will be 75,000 square feet at 210 by 110 feet. The height of the building has been lowered. Stormwater retention ponds will be built where probes have shown no bedrock, thus no need for blasting in those locations.
For the hospital to construct the building on Morgan Street, the city council would need to vote to amend the now-residential zoning and make the 8.5 acres part of the existing Saratoga Hospital PUD in that area. The city planning board has already returned a favorable advisory opinion on the PUD to the city council.
Elisa Sheehan of 48 Myrtle St. spoke to the council during the Dec. 15 public hearing at the council’s meeting. She said she sympathized with the hospital’s growth, but worried that the expansion would encroach upon her neighborhood. She wished the hospital would find another site to on which to build.
“I feel pushed out with all this new growth,” she said. “We’re slowly being encircled, and I’m afraid we’ll end up inside the hospital complex.”
Since it filed its application in August, the hospital has been working cooperatively with area neighbors to address concerns over that issue, as well as building height, lighting, stormwater management and traffic. The historic Markey Estate borders the project, and some neighbors claim a moose wanders through the field on which the hospital plans to build.
Revisions made to the original plan have addressed the concerns of many who contacted the hospital regarding the proposal.
The hospital’s project team addressed the city council and the public during the council meeting, with attorney Matthew J. Jones, founder of the Jones Firm, as lead speaker.
Jones presented a series of figures on the hospital: Saratoga Hospital is the only hospital in Saratoga County and has been operating at 211 Church St. since 1911. The hospital employs more than 1,800 full-time equivalent employees, or about 2,200 individuals at nine locations throughout the Capital Region, and pays out approximately $123 million in annual salaries and income, and another $30 million in benefits.
While the hospital brings in about $254 million per year in net patient service revenue, it currently spends $750,000 on 10 leased locations in the area. The continued expansion of Saratoga Hospital has caused it to outgrow many of its current leased locations. As the hospital continues to attract and recruit an increasing number of physicians, the proposed medical office building will provide space for them to practice, and give patients convenient access to hospital facilities and services.
The planned medical office building would be approximately 75,000 square feet, spread evenly over three floors and will sit on 8.5 acres of land to be acquired by the hospital should the Saratoga Springs City Council vote to amend the current zoning.
Jack Despart lives directly across the street from the proposed building, at 8 Morgan St. He said he bought his home 15 years ago, and has since lived in it, upgraded it and invested in it. He was upset at the prospect of facing a 75,000-square-foot office building and a parking lot that can hold more than 300 cars.
“I would not have bought my house if I knew the residential zoning could so easily be changed,” he said.
John Benzel of 220 Crescent Ave., an architect who has worked with Despart, called this PUD spot-zoning. He didn’t see where the comprehensive plan authorized an institution moving into a residential neighborhood.
“The first PUD has already compromised this neighborhood,” Benzel said.
Specialties to be housed in the new building may include oncology, general surgery, bariatric surgery, urology, pulmonology, nephrology, cardiology and general family practice.
Dr. William Malone, a Saratoga Hospital endocrinologist, spoke of the importance of coordinating care and improving the quality of service. The proximity of doctors to the hospital was important, so they could get to their sickest patients quickly.
“This building will be a big sell for the hospital,” he said. “We need its proximity and its size. And we wouldn’t be supporting its construction unless we believed it was a necessity.”
Although the building will have the capacity to consolidate the hospital’s current leased space into one location, it will increase in occupancy over time as existing leases expire through the year 2020. Fit-up of the building will occur during the next five years, as the leases expire, creating the need for space for these hospital employees.
In 2014, the Comprehensive Plan Committee considered the hospital’s plans for a medical office building at this location, and members agreed to recommend a change in the comp plan designation for this area to “institutional.” The city council agreed with this recommendation in its adoption of the comprehensive plan in June.
The planning board received a negative New York State Environmental Quality Review Act declaration Oct. 14, determining affirmatively that the proposed plan and rezoning are not contrary to the general purposes and intent of the zoning ordinance, and are consistent with the recently revised comprehensive plan, Jones said.
Despite that negative declaration, which means no issues are expected, Ina Harney of 40 Seward St. told the council about problems she’d had during the construction of the nearby Birch Run apartments. The area’s bedrock, deep under the surface, caused problems with blasting during construction and with stormwater runoff afterward.
“I’ve lived in my home 40 years,” she said. “I had to rebuild my driveway to keep the water from my house.”
As for the dynamiting, she said the building of Birch Run involved three months of blasting one summer. Her foundation cracked.
And as for traffic, Harney remained stoic despite her pessimism.
“I will probably be killed getting out of my street,” she said calmly. “And I’m afraid any doctors walking in the roadway here might be killed, too.”
Her neighbor Edwin Klinkhammer of 13 Seward St. agreed that traffic was challenging, even dangerous, in the area. He is in the Navy and expects to eventually be transferred out of his Ballston Spa assignment. He and his wife had planned to rent the home they bought here in Saratoga Springs, but the traffic concerned them.
“The traffic is a problem for potential renters with little kids,” he said. “If the PUD goes through, my wife and I will probably sell this house and make an investment in some other city.”
Jones said, “We believe the most recent public hearing was constructive, and we appreciate the legitimate questions and concerns raised by the neighbors who spoke to the council. We continue to be encouraged by the dialog we are having with the majority of neighbors, and we have every confidence the city council will give our proposal a full and fair hearing.”