The Hospital Expansion: Why Our Community Needs To Support It

Our city faces some critical questions about the future of Saratoga Hospital. Resistance by its neighbors to its acquisition of property for a planned medical office building has been ferocious. It is understandable why the neighbors who abut the property fear its impact, but the coverage has confused some key issues which need to be addressed because many are unaware of just how important the Hospital’s plans are.

An Essential Institution For Our City

In 2015 the city adopted a Comprehensive Plan that acknowledged the importance of the Hospital to Saratoga Springs. In the section titled “3.1 Economic Strength and Stability” item 3.1-3 recommends:

Support the viability and growth of the community’s unique institutions (e.g. Skidmore College, Saratoga Hospital, SPAC, Saratoga Spa State Park, and the race tracks)…

In fact the 1960 Master Plan and 1970 Comprehensive Plan also address plans by the Hospital to expand and the need to plan for future expansions.

The Hospital contributes critically to the health (pardon the pun) of the city. Obviously it provides critical healthcare but it is also a major employer in the city. The spinoff of the incomes it generates are an important element to the vitality of our downtown. It also has an impact on property values. Having a top notch hospital within the city is a consideration for people deciding to live in this community.

The Viability Of Our Hospital Should Not Be Taken For Granted

This year news stories reported that Glens Falls Hospital’s financial condition had deteriorated to the point of crisis. A story in the March 3, 2019, edition of the Post Star Newspaper led with “Glens Falls Hospital is in dire financial trouble…” In a rapidly changing environment in the health industry with the costs of equipment and care constantly rising, maintaining the viability of a large and complex institution like a hospital requires skilled management. This community would be reckless to simply assume that our Hospital will always flourish. That explains why the city’s Comprehensive Plan asserts that the city must be proactive in supporting “the viability and growth” of Saratoga Hospital.

To set a context for the proposed Hospital expansion, consider its recent meteoric growth as shown by the following statistics: In 2005 physician visits at the Hospital were 116,899. In 2018, thirteen years later they had risen to 304,930. They basically tripled. Between 2005 and 2019 net revenue rose from $109,884,412.00 to $369,110,417.00. These numbers reflect a stunning rate of growth.

Probably the best way to dramatize the Hospital’s growth is to compare the following pictures. The first was taken some time in the 1950’s. The second is a recent image. It is important to note that these only show the structures that face Church Street. They do not include the many other offices at other locations. In fact, in order to address the critical need for space, some of the offices now located at the main site are going to be moved to the Wilton Mall.

 

I know that the critics of the Hospital expansion will seize on the Wilton Mall location to further their argument that the Hospital has other options for growth but that misses the fundamental point. It makes common sense to focus critical care in a single location. Yes, ancillary activities can be farmed out to other locations but critical care needs to be centralized.

The area proposed for the medical office building not only makes sense today but perhaps more importantly allows the Hospital to have options to address future needs. A responsible management team must be thinking long term. These parcels are the last pieces of undeveloped land contiguous to the Hospital and have too much potential for the Hospital to have passed on the opportunity to secure them.

Saratoga County’s continued growth and the expanding nature of healthcare require that management think not only about current needs but also the needs of our community for decades to come.  Such was the view of planners more than half a century ago when they wrote the 1960 Master Plan and the 1970 Comprehensive Plan. We are the beneficiaries of that foresight. 

A Dose Of Reality

In her Readers View piece in the Saratogian, candidate Patty Morrison describes the area where the Hospital wants to build in bucolic terms. An innocent reader might think that the expansion is a threat to the greenbelt. In fact the land is actually zoned for residential development and currently allows for the building of single family homes on quarter acre plots. This is not a fight over the greenbelt.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who has followed my blog over the last few years knows that I have been a fierce defender of neighborhoods threatened by inappropriate development. Decisions by the land use boards in the past were heavily weighted against the wishes of residents and in favor of developers whose upscale housing projects intruded on neighborhoods and served the interests of profits for the developer rather than the public interest. To my mind, there was extensive abuse, particularly by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

I believe this Hospital proposal is  different, however, from the conflicts over development projects such as Downton Walk on Jumel Place. The Hospital is a not for profit institution that provides service to the community and maintaining its “viability and growth” as our Comp Plan states is in the interest of the community at large. This is not a project designed for the benefit of a wealthy few.

It is essential of course that the city’s Planning Board rigorously insist that the design of the Hospital’s project take into account the quality of life of the residents who will be impacted. Issues of buffering, lighting, runoff, traffic, etc. need to be rigoously addressed. I have enormous respect for Mark Torpey who chairs the Planning Board, and Mayor Kelly has made new appointments to the land use boards who are independent of the development industry. To the extent possible, I believe the impact of the project on the neighborhood will be mitigated.

We live in a culture with an ethos of “take the money and run.” Long term planning is too often the victim of short term needs. Later people wonder as to why no one earlier saw this disaster or that coming. This Hospital is going to continue to grow. The question we, as a community, must ask is “will it grow smart?”

We need to think about the future of our city and the key role we will want our Hospital to play. I encourage people to support the Hospital’s proposed expansion.

 

2 thoughts on “The Hospital Expansion: Why Our Community Needs To Support It”

  1. While the Comprehensive Plan mentions the importance of Saratoga Hospital, it also calls for the protection of our residential neighborhoods. When very significant changes in zoning and land use are considered, such actions should be done in a transparent manner with a full understanding of the impacts of such changes and broad notification for those most directly impacted. That did not happen when the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee and the City Council approved the 2015 Comprehensive Plan which included the re-zoning of the Morgan Street property.
    There are no other areas in the City zoned for medical office complexes on inferior roadways such as Morgan Street. Unlike other types of office buildings, medical office complexes generate very high levels of vehicular traffic and activity.
    No one from any Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, Land Use Board or City Council had ever looked at Morgan Street and decided independently that it should no longer be zoned residential. This all came about because the Hospital made a request for this zoning change during one of the last meetings of the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee and its long ordeal of dissention and controversy. It slipped under the radar of many voting members of the Committee and ultimately of the Council without adequate scrutiny or consideration. The process was flawed.
    The Hospital has other alternatives. They can build their medical office complex elsewhere. Morgan Street is not the only option.
    It is time for a responsible member of the Council to bring forth a motion to amend the Comprehensive Plan regarding Parcel #1, the Morgan Street parcel. At least give the community the opportunity to look at this more thoroughly and openly before completion of the UDO.

    Chris Mathiesen

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  2. Thank you, John, for your copious review.

    Ever wonder why this parcel, offered for sale for over three decades, has not generated the interest for single family housing even though most all other available parcels within the inside (and outer) district(s) have been developed throughout that time? Surrounded by dense apartment complexes and condominiums, this residential parcel might best be rezoned for more dense garden apartment housing that would invariably result in the removal of all vegetation, the incorporation of rain runoff holding ponds and a series of dense apartments that would be placed 20 feet from the boundary as permitted just as its neighbor’s developers and contractors had done.

    The hospital’s proposed single structure located at the furthest portion of the site is hardly a ‘medical office complex’ by any stretch of one’s imagination. Have the critics even taken the time to study the plan for this proposed building? I am of the opinion that improving Morgan and Myrtle Streets with accessible sidewalks along the public rights of way would certainly be a concern for the public’s safety, since most all residents are now forced to walk within the path of local traffic, most all of which is generated by the vehicles associated with the existing homes and apartments.

    The careful examination of this property revealed land that it is neither historic, nor set aside as ‘open or green space’ or part of the visualized ‘green belt’ surrounding the city and its core. In fact, this developable land has been unfortunately viewed for a long time, as a personal long view by its neighbors, whose own property developers chose not to protect their tenants or owners from future changes but instead, built right up to and in one case over the boundary lines adjacent to this parcel. The once rural residential nature of this part of town has long since been changed over the last 70 years with the successive zoning changes and its three dense residential projects. This neighborhood (as can be seen in the 1950 photograph) now consists of private homes, home associations, apartments, private medical offices, municipal hospital buildings, retail businesses, law offices, not-for profit establishments and a country and golf membership club. Hardly the bucolic residential neighborhood that some now choose opportunistically to imply. The 2015 Comprehensive Plan review was in direct response to these existing conditions.

    It is time that those sidewalks and curbs from Church Street continue along the Morgan and Myrtle Streets in order to provide residents with safe and accessible travel just as it is time for many who oppose this project to take a good hard look at this proposed building comparing it with its only other potential as a full lot coverage apartment complex of structures.

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