Tuesday, February 24, 2009
BY BOB GROVES
Valley Hospital should be restricted from expanding into surrounding residential neighborhoods, members of the Ridgewood Planning Board said.
The board, which is considering an expansion plan by the hospital, has also asked village planner Blais L. Brancheau to include language about hospital design, signage, bed use, outside lighting, parking and construction in amendments to Ridgewood’s master plan.
“There should be a statement in the master plan that the board finds it is detrimental for the hospital usage to go beyond the four corners of the hospital zone,” planning board attorney Gail L. Price said at a meeting Monday night.
Valley is asking the board to change the village master plan and Hospital-zone ordinance to accommodate its $750-million expansion plan. The hospital wants to increase its size 67 percent by adding a parking deck and replacing two older buildings with three new ones.
Valley is surrounded by residential streets and Benjamin Franklin Middle School. While hospital officials said they do not plan to expand off their campus, residents have voiced concerns that the hospital would eventually encroach on the neighborhood.
Board chairman David Nicholson asked if master plan amendments could include “a mechanism so the board could influence the overarching design of the building.”
“I could consult with the hospital about windows and the use of glass,” Brancheau replied. “But the master plan would be more appropriate to have more policy guidelines than details.”
Mayor David Pfund said there should be language describing any structural changes in order to “maintain the integrity of the village. There has been concern about the neighborhood.”
“The hospital will never be consistent with the neighborhood, but certain things can be done to mitigate the impact,” Brancheau said. Materials and design of the facade “should respect the neighborhood character,” he said.
A vocal group of residents have opposed the hospital’s plans, complaining that the new, taller buildings would tower over the neighborhood. They also worry about how years of construction will affect the middle school students.
The board wants the master plan to have language protecting residents from outside lighting glare and to regulate construction activity and traffic.
The board and Brancheau agreed that Valley should move about 100 parking spaces behind homes on one of the neighboring streets to a parking deck. That would allow a 16-foot high fence and buffer zone between the homes and the hospital.
The board deserves credit for addressing issues raised by neighbors, said Paul Gould, a member of Concerned Residents of Ridgewood, who oppose the hospital’s proposal.
But, “this process is still far from over,” he said. An unresolved issue, he said, is, what would be the impact on traffic if Valley changes some in-patient services to out-patient.
Valley has already reduced traffic in the neighborhood by 600,000 trips a year by moving services to other facilities, said Megan Fraser, a hospital spokeswoman. The hospital agrees with the board’s recommendation to move parking from its Steilen Avenue border, she said. “We’ll have the opportunity to work with people and to hear from the neighbors,” she said.
“We’re delighted the planning board is reviewing the master plan and H-zone ordinance, because those changes will allow us to go forward,” Fraser said.
The planning board will hold one more session to complete the draft amendments on March 17. It will then schedule public hearings on the hospital plan.