After P&Z Denial, Greenwich Hospital Returns with Updated Smilow Cancer Center Proposal

After their proposal for a new Smilow Cancer Center on the corner of Lafayette and Lake Ave was denied by the Planning & Zoning commission last August, Greenwich Hospital has come up with a new proposal that takes into consideration concerns from both neighbors and the commission.

Greenwich Hospital president Diane Kelly took questions from residents on Zoom, Thursday, March 24, 2022

Back on that August night after neighbors railed against the plans, citing years of having concerns about noise and delivery trucks, generator testing and even homeless people sleeping in a hospital courtyard fall on deaf ears, the P&Z commission voted 5-0 to reject the proposal.

This week, the hospital held a one-hour Zoom session that people could register for in advance.

“The headlines of the past two years have all been about Covid, but at Greenwich Hospital, in addition to Covid, we have not taken our eye off the fact that the incidence of cancer continues to grow,”

– Diane Kelly, president of Greenwich Hospital

Diane Kelly, president of the hospital said they’d surveyed the community and found “enormous support” for a new Smilow Cancer Center.

“Nearly 90% of the people were in support of the center,” she said, later adding that they had hired an outside firm to conduct the poll.

Later a neighbor identified as Mary asked for details of the poll, including the questions asked and who was polled. She said if people outside the immediate neighborhood were polled, they would certainy support healthcare.

“It’s like asking if you support babies and teddy bears,” she said.

Ms Kelly said an outside company had conducted the poll.

“My concern about the poll is that it depends on who you asked, when you asked and what the distribution was because clearly the neighborhood is more affected than anyone else,” Mary said.

“There aren’t a lot of middle class residential areas in downtown anymore. The more it disappears, the greater the likelihood it is going to look like New Rochelle.” – Mary

“The headlines of the past two years have all been about Covid, but at Greenwich Hospital, in addition to Covid, we have not taken our eye off the fact that the incidence of cancer continues to grow,” she said. “For breast cancer alone, Fairfield County alone has the highest incidence of disease in the state of Connecticut. And Connecticut has one of the highest rates per capita of breast cancer for the country.”

Ms Kelly said cancer care was undergoing dramatic transformation.

“What was unimaginable five years ago is now possible,” she continued.

“Smilow Cancer Center is one of only about 70 National Cancer Institute designated centers in the country,” she said, adding that put Smilow on a par with names like Memorial Sloan Kettering and Dana Farber.

Ms Kelly said the cancer center needed to be located by the hospital, in part due to the technology and equipment required for radiation oncology, but also in order to provide comprehensive and integrated care.

Mark Kozac, chief operating officer of Greenwich Hospital, reviewed changes in the proposal since the last iteration.

• All visible surface parking has been eliminated. (120 patient parking spaces will be under the building)

• Valet parking will be available. Electronic signage will direct patients to available parking in the parking garage.

Kozak said their traffic and parking consultant determined there would be “no adverse impact on traffic” and the proposed parking would meet demand for both patients and staff.

He said they planned to have the consultant review the original study to reaffirm the data.

Kozac said a cancer center was unlike a medical office building in that when an oncology patient comes to receive chemotherapy or radiation, they stay for several hours, whereas a doctor in a medical office building sees a patient approximately every 15 minutes.

“It is not a very traffic-intense set up,” he said.

He said the new proposal features deeper setbacks but adds a story. He said the additional story would only result in a total of seven feet to the overall building height.

“We made this design change specifically listening to both the commission and the neighbors about how the building felt obtrusive,” he said.

Originally the building was proposed to be 15 ft from the property line on Lake Ave. In the new plan it would be 40 ft from the property line.

In the corner at the traffic circle, the setback went from 25 ft to 60 ft. On the Lafayette Place side it went from 45 ft to 100 ft.

Increasing setbacks would allow more opportunity for green space and landscaping, including “an open space available to the community for community members to walk through or sit and enjoy the outdoors and nature.”

“Preserving the Peace in the Neighborhood”

Kozak said in response to complaints from neighbors about truck deliveries and noise from generators at Bendheim, the hospital had shifted the timing and frequency of testing. Instead of testing multiple times a month in the middle of the night they not conduct tests once a month on a Saturday afternoons. Also, he said they had worked to assure vendors no longer park their trucks by Bendheim.

Ms Kelly said she understood neighbors remained opposed to having a cancer center in the neighborhood near the hospital.

“You may hear those voices in the weeks ahead,” she said.

Several people testified in support of the project, including Stephanie Dunn Ashley a former Greenwich Hospital employee who is now employed by the American Red Cross; John Mastronardi, executive director of the Nathaniel Witherell; and Dr. Barbara Ward, who specializes specializes in Breast Surgery.

“Being able to treat your family member, yourself without having to travel to the city or further away… it’s an asset to have it much closer to home,” Dunn Ashley said. “I think it’s an absolute plus for the community.”

“I see this as a tremendous benefit to the community, where there is a true need for this kind of service, delivered in a personal and holistic way,” Mastronardi said.

Dr. Ward said the current pavilion already received deliveries.

“It’s already happening. These patients are already here and being cared for. We want to expand our services, obviously, but I don’t get the question that it’s life changing,” Dr. Ward said.

Mr. Cohen from Greenwich Lodge across the street said he wasn’t concerned about his property value but with 120 new parking spaces he questioned the traffic consultant’s conclusion there would be no adverse impacts.

“The idea that there’s not going to be more traffic is absurd,” he said, adding that currently cars had to “slalom around Church Street and Sherwood.”

“You have to pull over and wait for a car to go by,” he said. “And there is a proposal for a 200 unit project on Church Street….But no more traffic? And no ‘adverse’ traffic?”

Ms Kelly said that mean the infrastructure could handle the additional traffic.

“We have done a lot of work to keep traffic away from the hospital,” she said adding that the hospital provides a shuttle back and forth to the train station.

She said they had already moved huge services out of the hospital that didn’t need to be in the hospital, including nutrition counseling, behavior health counseling and heart and vascular care, at great expense. Kozak said tens of thousands of patient visits and hundreds of employees had been moved to 500 W Putnam and High Ridge Rd in Stamford.

Questioned what “no adverse effect” meant, Kozak said, “If 10 cars go down Lafayette, and everything is smooth, and tomorrow 20 cars go down, the road can handle those 20 cars. When I say adverse impact, the volume of cars passing through – the road can support without traffic backing up without impacting people’s ability to pass through.”

Stafford Reimers, a neighbor, asked about construction length and noise.

Michael Wolpensinger, lead facility/engineer for the hospital, estimated two years from start to finish.

Ms Kelly read a comment from the live chat from Joan Blackburn: “There may be some support in Greenwich, generally, but in this particular neighborhood, with those living here are affected directly, there are strong objections to this project.”

Another comment in the chat was from Elizabeth Sutliffe who was concerned about blasting.

Mr. Wolpensinger said blasting was highly regulated and done extremely carefully. “We have requirements with the town when we apply for permits to do this, and will follow all the guidelines including inspections of the properties adjacent to the property along with monitoring to make sure there are no adverse effects.”

Richard Ortiz commented that as a new neighbor who purchased his property a year ago, he had been unaware of the plans for Smilow.

“I am not a huge salary-winner, so living in Greenwich is a privilege and also, now more of a concern since my return and my property value,” he said.

“I’m not an expert in property values but I know that healthcare and excellent health care is always part of a town’s plan on what would attract you to live in a town,” Ms Kelly said.

“We also tried to be mindful of the property equation by making sure we are preserving open space for the community and for the neighborhood. Open space is at a premium and that also supports the town plan.”

Ortiz asked who would be responsible for any damage to his older building.

“We would be required to put meters in all of the buildings,” Kelly said. “That’s the part of the very highly regulated part of the process.”

Lawrence Stern said he was concerned about drainage and stormwater runoff. He said he lived downhill from the hospital and that during previous construction runoff into his pond had been an issue.

“Now we have a huge problem because the Gods have gotten angry,” he said. “If there’s any runoff down the hill, it’s not acceptable to me.”

Also, Jeffrey Stewart, from Fairfield House on Lafayette Place, said water had come down a steep slope from hospital property bringing water and debris, and causing a drainage problem. “I’m concerned this will make our problem even worse than it is.”

Mr. Wolpensinger said the intention was to manage storm water runoff within green spaces and a retention system. He offered to meet offline with Mr. Stern.

A neighbor thanked the hospital for having increased security patrols since the last input session.

The neighbor named Mary also said the quality of the entire neighborhood was changing.

“There are not a lot of middle class residential areas in downtown anymore. The more it disappears, the greater the likelihood it is going to look like New Rochelle,” Mary said. “The neighborhood’s concern is it’s another large building and it’s six or eight fewer houses that used to be occupied by residents.”

Katie DeLuca, Greenwich Town Planner was last to testify.

“I think the point is well taken, that the hospital itself does a wonderful job for our community and we all want to support it, but the neighborhood specifically is a great concern,” she said. “If there are people who didn’t get to speak tonight, or if there’s a need for another meeting with the immediate neighborhood that would be beneficial to all of us.”

See also:

Greenwich P&Z Commission Denies 54,865 Sq Ft Smilow Cancer Center
Aug 10, 2021

Residents Lash Out at Greenwich Hospital during Zoom Forum for Proposed Smilow Cancer Center
July 24, 2021

Residents and P&Z Push Back on Smilow Cancer Center: building, parking, traffic, neighborhood
July 23, 2021

P&Z Watch: Greenwich Hospital Smilow Cancer Center Should Integrate Better into the Neighborhood
June 10, 2021

P&Z Watch: Twice Shrunk, Proposed Smilow Cancer Center Faces Parking, Traffic and Sewer Hurdles
May12, 2021

P&Z Watch: Proposed Greenwich Hospital Smilow Cancer Center Returns, Slimmed Down 25%
Dec 30, 2020

P&Z Watch: Pre-Application Begins on Potential 80,000 sq ft Greenwich Hospital Smilow Cancer Center
February 27, 2020