How The Hospital Expansion Was Incorporated into the Comp Plan
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Brad Birge asserted that Matt Jones appeared before the Comprehensive Plan Committee regarding the proposed change of the area that the hospital was potentially interested in building on from residential to institutional. Here is a link to the video Move the timer to 13:15 to hear it. Birge asserted that this was done some time between June and November of 2014.
I have spoken to several people who were on the Comprehensive Plan Committee and none of them have any recollection of Attorney Jones doing a presentation prior to November 17. Even at the November 17 meeting his only role was to briefly answer a question. I understand that the neighbors of the hospital plan to FOIL the city on this matter. They tell me that they have spent many hours trying to find when, prior to November 17, the hospital requested this controversial change. It seems now incumbent on Mr. Birge to provide documentation.
Adding to skepticism regarding this is the presentation made by Kevin Ronayne, Hospital Vice President for Operations/Facilities at that November 17 meeting. The public was allowed to make comments during the beginning of each Comp Plan meeting. Mr. Romayne spoke to the Comp Plan Committee during the public comment segment. Here is a link to the video. Move the timer to 6:00.
Mr. Ronayne began his statement to the committee by asking “for your indulgence” and by offering that this request was “a little late in the game.” Now that sounds to me as though this was the first effort by the hospital to amend the Comp Plan to allow for their expansion. He then went on to explain that “last summer” the land (which we now know was owned by D.A. Collins) came to the hospital’s attention as being available. He then went on to note the many advantages to the hospital of building offices on this land.
It seems very odd that given the length of time that they had regarding their planning, that the hospital would make their request at the next to the last meeting of the Comp Plan Committee. After all, the committee had been meeting for at least six months. My impression is that hospitals are very rigorous when it comes to planning so this seems very odd. At the risk of appearing cynical, one possible explanation was that the longer their plans to expand into this area were public, the greater the chance that opposition would arise. Better to wait until the last possible moment.
It was during that same meeting that the issue of allowing PUDs in the greenbelt came up. This was at least the third attempt to find a way to allow Saratoga National Golf Course to build their resort. In contrast to the previous attempts, this time, with the help of Jamin Totino who switched sides, the PUD option was adopted. Both the arguments over the change and the resulting vote were quite heated and exhausting. It was immediately following this that the hospital issue came up. The issue was somewhat obscured by the fact that there was no actual proposal for any kind of buildings. The vote was whether to designate a very large area by the hospital and the neighborhoods as “institutional.” No one was talking about a 750,000 square foot office with 250 parking spaces. Everything was very abstract. This was further complicated by the fact that the actual zoning for the area remained as residential in spite of the new designation as “Institutional” (I know this hardly makes sense but this is the world of planning). What this gambit meant was that the residential area was “vulnerable” to the hospital proposing a PUD to actually build offices there if the “institutional” designation was adopted in spite of the fact that the zoning for the area remained residential. If you review the video (link here) which runs from timer 106:00 to 110:30 (four and a half minutes) you will see that there was no discussion of the substance of what was being proposed. There is a paradox about the Comp Plan. It is to be a general document about directions for land use and it is not to be a blue print for particular projects. This was the perfect environment for slipping this land use change through. Bear in mind the entire discussion lasted only four and a half minutes. The sound quality is poor. The main protagonist in the discussion is Sonny Bonacio who basically presents where on the map this area should be located. There is a vote and no one votes to oppose the change.
Now my friend, Michele Madiga, believes all of this was clear and that she fully understood completely what was going on. She also notes that the change was adopted without opposition. As someone who knows Commissioner Madigan well, I can testify to her thoroughness and the fact that she grasps all of this.
Her remarks were in response to Commissioner Mathiesen who apologized to the public for missing this. Remember that the change in the actual document was a matter of a color change on a section of the city map. I would note that I have spoken to a number of people who were on the Comp Plan Committee and who, like Commissioner Mathiesen, admit their culpability in failing to recognize the significance of this change.
I am disappointed that Commissioner Madigan is unwilling to allow this specific change in the Comp Plan to be revisited. While many of us are culpable of missing what she clearly saw, I would have hoped that she would have been more sympathetic on this matter. I know the neighbors would have appreciated it.