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

Greenwich Hospital appeared before the Planning & Zoning commission on Tuesday, with revisions to their application for a new 50,000 sq ft Smilow Cancer Center.

Since the last meeting, the hospital did make substantial changes to the proposed Lafayette Place facade, decreased its massing and changed the location of the penthouse. They also modified landscaping, including lowering and removing walls along the property line.

The changes were in response to input from P&Z asking for a more “welcoming.”

In addition several curb cuts on both Lafayette and Lake Ave were eliminated. They also removed overhead wires that cross Lake Avenue.

The commission said the applicant was moving in the right direction.

However, P&Z chair Margarita Alban said the new building should be more in scale with the neighborhood, particularly at that northeast corner where Lafayette meets Lake.

The commission also had concerns about the facility being under parked.

And then there was the issue of the historic stone wall at the corner of Lafayette and Lake Ave, which was still slated to be replaced despite the commission having urged them at the previous meeting to retain it.

Alban said that during the May meeting the word “campus” had been troublesome.

“How do you fit into the neighborhood rather than take it over?” she asked. “If you could, do a paradigm shift, and think in terms not of a campus, but of blending into a neighborhood.”

Commissioner Peter Lowe said historically the neighborhood was residential.

“I don’t understand why you would get rid of the wall that’s there,” said commissioner Peter Levy, who added that he felt the view at the main entrance on Lake Ave was successful, friendly and welcoming, but the northeast corner was “anything but that.”

“And you take away the last vestige of something that was historically part of this neighborhood for no apparent reason?” Levy asked.

“We’d very much like you to keep that because it is a historic feature,” Alban said. “I’m saying you’re overtaking the neighborhood and I’d like to get you to think about how to blend in….We want it to look like a neighborhood that’s friendly and fuzzy.”

“The key thing is put on a new hat,” Alban said.

Smilow Cancer Center entrance from Lake Ave.
The P&Z commission were not favorable toward the northeast view of the proposed Smilow Cancer Center.
Historic stone wall along Lake Ave the P&Z commission would like retained. Greenwich Lodge in the background. Photo: Leslie Yager

Diane Kelly, president of Greenwich Hospital, responded to a question from commissioner Dennis Yeskey about the hospital’s future plans.

Ms Kelly said under the leadership of previous president Normal Roth that Greenwich Hospital became a fully integrated part of the Yale New Haven Health System.

“There is one reason why the Greenwich board chose to do that,” she explained. “It was to secure the future for Greenwich Hospital and to have a hospital. Community hospitals all over the country – when they are not affiliated with the resources of growing into a bigger system – they don’t actually survive.”

Ms Kelly said eight Connecticut hospitals lost money in 2019, and 47 hospitals closed in the US in 2020.

She said Greenwich Hospital’s 3-5 year strategy was to invest and grow their clinical services.

“When we became part of Yale New Haven Health System they invested $160 million in this plan. The purpose was to make Greenwich sustainable for the future,” she said. “A community hospital this size would have a very hard time in this day and age.”

Commissioner Nick Macri asked whether there was potential for the hospital to continue to grow in the next 10-15 years. For example, he asked whether the hospital would purchase 49 Lake Ave if it were to become available. That property is located on a flag lot behind the garage and emergency room.

“Always things like 49 Lake Ave – things that are office building opportunities for us will be of interest,” Ms Kelly said. “It would be foolish for me to say that wouldn’t be in our interest.”

The issue of the hospital being under parked was discussed at length.

Attorney Heagney, representing the applicant, said there would be 84 people in the Smilow Cancer Center building at any given time, and 118 parking spaces proposed there, plus an opportunity for 18 valets.

Mr. Heagney said Yale New Haven Hospital had an automatic parking guidance system, and there were plans to expand it to other garages. He said parking is done through an app so people know when they get to a garage whether there are spaces available.

“You don’t want to be overbuilding with the parking. You want to use it efficiently,” Heagney said, adding that his understanding was that people would be able to reserve a parking spot in advance.

Also he said it was policy that all hospital employees park in the Lake Ave garage, and that would continue so that parking at Smilow could be dedicated to patients and visitors.

During public comment, a neighbor from Greenwich Lodge at 47 Lafayette Place, Sheila Traub, said from her experience the hospital’s parking garage was frequently full.

“There will be signs and people standing in the roadway directing people as it is,” she said. “I’m puzzled as to how having additional employees use a garage that is now over full – can you explain how that might work?”

She said she frequently sees cars with New York license plates turning around in the Greenwich Lodge parking lot and go back to continue to look for parking at the hospital. Often, she said, cars enter the Greenwich Lodge parking lot via the exit, and that trucks park in their private lot.

She asked where smokers from the hospital would be allowed to smoke.

“I guess they can’t smoke in front of our building any longer because they have to be 200 yards, or some such away from your building. Where are you going to put all your smokers? In front of the Presbyterian Church or the nursery school? You really do have a lot of smokers,” Traub said.

Patrice McCann, also a resident of Greenwich Lodge, said she was concerned about roof noise and unsightly roof mechanicals at the proposed Smilow Cancer Center.

She said she frequently hears loud humming from the roof of Bendheim Cancer Center next to Greenwich Lodge.

“We would be looking directly into those air handlers, chillers, etc,” McCann said. “And now we would be dealing with a hum. The Bendheim building has an atrocious hum.”

A neighbor who gave her name as Tonya from Greenwich Lodge listed an array of issues.

“Pulling out of our own driveways is difficult. There is a courtyard behind the Bendheim Center where we have found homeless people sleeping,” she said. “Greenwich Hospital has taken over the neighborhood.”

“I live on the first floor and I can’t even keep my windows open because of the humming and the fumes,” she said. “We try to be great neighbors. But I’m not sure that’s being reciprocated.”

She said cars and trucks often lock Greenwich’s Lodge’s driveway.

“Adding an additional 100 cars to this corner is only going to exacerbate the problem,” she added. “This is a residential neighborhood, with over 100 residents opposed to this expansion.”

Peter Tomaj, a longtime resident of 47 Lafayette Place, said a truck with supplies for Greenwich Hospital unloads in front of his building, and that he has gotten the runaround when he complains.

“I have to chase them every day to the front door of Greenwich Hospital. I have asked the hospital on many occasions to solve the problem with the big truck next to our exit – we have 80- and 90-year-olds having trouble pulling out…They would send me to Bendheim. I called the police and they sent me to Greenwich Hospital. That truck stays there for hours.”

“To have have a commercial building of that size on Lafayette Place in the heart of Greenwich, I think is a huge disservice to the town,” Tomaj said. “This is just the beginning. Yale New Haven is having a huge expansion in this neighborhood. A doctor from Greenwich Hospital anonymously told me as soon as they get the approval from this site they are getting 49 Lake Avenue.”

“This is not about Greenwich Hospital. This is about Yale,” he added. “Half of their business is coming here. Why should we suffer? Why should we go through the pain for Westchester or New York residents?”

Karen Fassuliotis, who lives behind the hospital, agreed that the hospital parking lot was often full.

“I’ve watched Greenwich Hospital gobble up the homes on William Street. I’ve seen a historic home be demolished for a faux door on the Bendheim building,” she said. “I’ve seen Greenwich Hospital go from a small quaint hospital to now a huge sprawling campus and I have to say, Greenwich Hospital has to be more cognizant that they are within a neighborhood, not a standalone campus.”

“If they want to expand, they need to look at alternate spots – not Lafayette and Lake Ave – it is way too congested as it is,” Fassuliotis said.

After public comment the item was left open.

See also:

P&Z Watch: New Greenwich Private School Approved with Multiple Conditions