On Thursday night, residential neighbors of Greenwich Hospital had a chance to ask questions and share concerns about the Greenwich Hospital’s proposal for a major expansion in their neighborhood with a 55,000+ sq ft Smilow Cancer Center.
The town hall format meeting via Zoom had been at the request of the Planning & Zoning commission.
The hospital has purchased seven houses and medical office buildings on eight properties along Lake Avenue between the two traffic circles and want to remove them to construct the new cancer facility.
The cancer center would serve Greenwich residents, but also be a destination for patients from other towns, and residents said they were concerned about increased traffic and congestion.
Many of the residents on the call were from Lafayette Place and were concerned about traffic and delivery trucks.
The hospital has made changes to the proposal since it was first proposed.
It is now reduced to three stories and about 55,000+ sq ft – down from the initial nearly 90,000 sq ft proposed.
The number of curb cuts have been reduced, and traffic moved away from the Lake/Lafayette traffic circle.
They said if the new cancer center is approved, trucks would enter via Lafayette, and exit via Lake Ave. Patients would enter and exit on Lake Ave.
They’ve attempted to make the building more welcoming looking and less massive.
They’ve pushed the mechanicals back further on the roof.
In response to complaints that the parking garage is often full, they plan to offer both a full time valet service and a parking management system to guide patients and visitors to available spaces.
All vendors have been informed that they may no longer make deliveries at the front of the Bendheim building. Instead, they will be required to make deliveries to the back of the hospital; from there items will be delivered in smaller courier vehicles.
Further they said they had stationed a security guard, and at times a police officer, to intercept stray vendors.
They have altered the timing of the generator testing of the Bendheim building to make it less disruptive to people who are sleeping. It used to be done very early on weekday mornings. Now they do it in the middle of the day on weekends.
Still, residents were unmoved.
They said they were offended that an attorney representing the hospital downplayed the residential aspect of the neighborhood, calling it “a mixed use neighborhood.”
Mary Jenkins who has lived on Prospect Drive for 39 years and can see the hospital’s cell tower from her window, said that comment offended her.
“You took down residential houses to build Bendheim. You are taking down residential properties to build this facility,” Jenkins said. “The fact there may be commercial buildings between the hospital and the Post Road is irrelevant.”
“Just because we don’t live in multi-million dollar homes on this street, I can assure you it is a residential neighborhood with a couple hundred residents on one street,” said Gojani of Greenwich Lodge on Lafayette, adding that she hoped the cancer center would not make the street less safe and more congested.
Residents of historic Greenwich Lodge said their visitor parking spots are frequently taken by people visiting the hospital and it is can be challenging to get out of their parking lot because delivery trucks block the exit.
While neighbors were grateful for a chance to vent and ask questions, and there was talk of creating a more permanent council for to exchange information, they said the hospital was a bit late to the game.
Representatives from the hospital assured the residents they had heard those concerns loud and clear.
Hospital president Diane Kelly said the idea of neighborhood council was “long overdue.”
Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said the removal of 33 trees would reduce water absorption and contribute to a “heat island effect.”
“That’s a big issue with climate change,” Alvaraz said. “You’re increasing the heat in that area. She also wondered if there was enough room to accommodate the 150 trees proposed to be planted.
The reply was that the trees would be placed in the location of curb cuts being removed. A mix of deciduous, flowering and evergreen trees would also be scattered on the interior property line and the exterior along Lake and Lafayette.
Greenwich Lodge resident Tonya Gojani questioned the timing of the hospital having hired police for a presence in the neighborhood in the week since the lass P&Z meeting.
“If someone were walking the grounds, they would see a homeless person in the courtyard. If someone was walking the grounds, they would see our driveways being blocked,” Gojani said.
Karen Fassuliotis who lives nearby on Glen Rd, also worried about security.
“There is a spillover of unsavory people into our neighborhoods as well. I would suggest that you do security and do a pass around Glen to Lake Ave.”
The representatives of the hospital said security has focused on the interior of the building.
As for communicating with neighbors on a regular basis, she said, “I will be very forthright. When you know better, you do better…I just hadn’t thought about doing an ongoing, regular meeting with the neighborhoods. I wish I had thought about that. …We are committed to that.”
She said she appreciated the suggestions about security. The hospital has focused its security staff on the interior of the hospital.
“We have security, but it’s important to hear that you don’t see them. Therefore it’s not very effective.”
There were concerns about the impacts of blasting on nearby buildings, and Greenwich Lodge in particular. There was talk about seismic monitoring in the blasting zone.
Someone who identified himself as Barry from Greenwich Lodge said he was concerned about blasting.
“This is a 100 year old building, and cannot withstand the shockwave – it would be like a minor earthquake. We just saw a building collapse that was much newer than this one.”
“We need detailed seismological reports about blasting and how it would impact this very old building,” he said.
Ms. Kelly said they would share the seismic reports in real time.
The hospital is required to do inspections and monitoring caused by seismological disturbances, including to Greenwich Lodge, and, going forward, should they receive approval for the facility, they promised to a similar forum to describe the construction plans.
Peter Tomaj of Fairfield House said he’d gotten the runaround for years when he called the police or the hospital to complain about delivery trucks on Lafayette.
“It took 27 years for Greenwich Hospital to admit they were responsible for the Bendheim Center,” he said adding.
“We are completely responsible for that,” Kelly said.
Ms Kelly said she regretted it took so long to crack down on deliveries on Lafayette. “We own that.”
Square Peg in a Round Hole?
Sheila Traub described the town hall format meeting as about “three years too late.”
“Typically you would involve all stakeholders well in advance of architectural drawings,” she said. “You are surrounded by non profits including the 1400 school children who go to school at a time that was not counted by your survey.”
Traub said she had read the letters on file at P&Z that she said reflected “a done deal” and “a cozy relationship,” with for example, letters to the hospital referencing “formerly 16, 22, 28, 32, and 38 Lake Ave and formerly 54, 56 and 54, 56 and 60 Lafayette.”
“We wish the hospital well, but we wish its growth elsewhere,” she added. “It has proven itself not to be the great neighbor that everyone hoped it might be…Thank you for hearing us out, even though it was something that was forced upon you.”
Louise Lammers said the information was “too little, too late.”
“You are affecting our neighborhood in a very negative way,” Ms Gojani said. “I’m wondering why do you want to continue in a plan where your neighbors don’t want to see another structure. Why not purchase another piece of property in a more suitable location, like Rte 1, where you’re not encroaching on a residential neighborhood.”
“You’re trying to put something in a spot where it doesn’t fit,” she said. “You can’t accommodate the parking now. You say you’re scaling back the building. What’s the point of building a building you’re scaling back that in 7-10 years you’ll need another building. Look at 49 Lake Ave. You’ve created a ‘campus,’ and P&Z have said they don’t want a campus.”
Ms Gojani asked why not instead build a full size facility with appropriate parking in an area that is not smacking up against Fairfield House and a daycare center where kids are crossing the street.
Ms Kelly said the proximity to the hospital made this location ideal, but that it made sense to have the cancer center adjacent the hospital, rather than for example, somewhere along Route 1.
“This is an interdisciplinary cancer center, not just a medical office building,” she said. “That doesn’t make this any easier for you.”
“You’re trying to put a round peg in a square hole with this particular project,” said Fassuliotis said. “I’m not supportive of this at all. I think this will drastically change the character and feel…I hope you hear loud and clear that the majority of people are not in favor.”
“The wonderful police officers we’ve had across the street this week won’t be there every month over the next 10-20 year,” Ms Gojani said. “It’s the radiation, the electricity, the humming sounds. I don’t want to be across the street from that. I’m already next door to that. Nobody wants to live next to a huge facility.”
Ms Fassuliotis asked about the financial consequences for the hospital if their application was turned down.
“Is this going to put you out of business eventually if you do not get the center?” she asked.
“Is it a possibility? Yes,” Ms Kelly replied.
“There is never a year that a healthcare administrator is not worried about finances, and with Covid-19, for the first time in 40 years, we are just functioning at a break even. We are, like all our partner hospitals, really struggling in that area,” Ms Kelly said.
“‘Why now?’ is because we don’t have room to grow in those services and continuing to take care of the people that need us in the Bendheim,” Ms Kelly continued.
She said the proposal was not new, and that the hospital had started talking about the new cancer center three or four years earlier, back when Norman Roth was president.
“I know it feels like a lot right now, but we have been talking about it. Unfortunately for all of us there are two diagnoses on the rise: cancer and heart disease.”
All were in agreement that it was a good idea to form neighborhood councils for ongoing communication between residents and the hospital. Ms Kelly apologized for not having communicated to neighbors during last year and a half, but noted the Covid-19 pandemic had had an impact.
Ms Kelly said concerns about delivery trucks, traffic, parking and security were heard loud and clear and vowed to address address them and have ongoing communication.
July 13, 2021
Dec 3, 2020