Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Suburban to make case for closing road for expansion

Residents argue shutting down Lincoln Street will hurt neighborhood

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A hearing next week will help determine if Suburban Hospital's expansion plans will force part of a residential street to close.

The Office of the County Executive will hear arguments from Suburban Hospital representatives on Tuesday that closing one block of Lincoln Street is necessary for the hospital's planned $230 million expansion. Closing the street to make way for the expansion, they will argue, is necessary to improve traffic flow and improve patient care and would prevent more construction projects in the future.

Huntington Terrace Citizens Association representatives will claim that closing the road, which is on the north side of the current campus and would run through the middle of the new campus, would irreparably damage the surrounding neighborhood. They will contend that an expansion can take place without the street closure.

Following the hearing, a recommendation on the street closure will be made to the County Council.

The expansion would include a 300,000-square-foot facility with more private patient rooms, expanded operating rooms, and 40,000 square feet of physician office space, some of which the hospital could lease to doctors. Seven stories of parking will also be added. Hospital representatives said construction is scheduled take place from 2011 to 2013.

On Sept. 18, a separate hearing will be held before the County Board of Appeals on modifying the hospital's existing special exception to make way for the entire expansion. The current special exception allows the hospital, which is licensed for 231 beds, to operate in a residential zone.

Twenty-three homes owned by the hospital would be torn down in the hospital's plans.

Closing part of Lincoln Street would "destroy this community," according to Bob Deans of the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association.

He said the plans would disrupt local traffic patterns, make it less safe for children walking to and from Bradley Hills Elementary School, which is west of the hospital, and hurt local property values.

"We're not OK with doubling or tripling the size of their parking lot," Deans said, noting that a recent Huntington Terrace community meeting produced a unanimous vote against closing Lincoln Street.

Ronna Borenstein-Levy, a spokesperson for Suburban Hospital, said the facility has tried to work with the neighborhood to accommodate its concerns but that closing Lincoln Street is a necessity. She said the plan could actually improve the Huntington Terrace area for residents by cutting down on thru traffic.

Most of the traffic on Lincoln Street is hospital traffic already, and many residents in the area understand the hospital's need to expand in the proposed manner, according to Borenstein-Levy.

"It's not the entire neighborhood," she said. "It's a small, vocal group of people."

Deans said although the neighborhood supports the hospital in principle, earlier hospital expansion plans that would have preserved Lincoln Street and surrounding homes have been scrapped in favor of the current proposal. He said these previous plans should be revisited since they have the support of Huntington Terrace.

"They won't take yes for an answer," he said.

But Margaret Fitzwilliam, director of capital renovation projects for the hospital, said these plans have become outdated due to changing needs at the hospital and would completely choke off the front of the facility. She also said the Huntington Terrace Citizens' Association opposed these plans when they were first introduced.

"To do it today would paralyze the hospital," she said.