Greenwich P&Z Commission denies 54,865 square feet Smilow Cancer Center
The 54,865-square-foot Smilow Cancer Center proposed by Greenwich Hospital, which has undergone nearly a dozen public hearings before the Planning Zoning Commission and the Architectural Review Committee for a year and a half, has was rejected Tuesday afternoon at a special meeting.
The hospital proposed a 54,865 square foot Smilow Cancer Center. (For reference, the Bendheim cancer center measures 21,000 square feet)
In the public comments of a dozen neighbors, there were mostly negative comments.
“The hospital acquired these private homes. This negatively affected the residential character of the neighborhood. With the hospital’s decision to replace the houses with a taller building, safety was compromised, ”said neighbor Dale Lewis.
Patrice McCann said the traffic was already congested. She said it sometimes takes two traffic lights to get from Lafayette to Putnam Ave. “I think (the applicant’s) circulation study is wrong. I want the commission to know that this is a mess and that it will get worse.
McCann said that over the years the hospital had encroached on the residential neighborhood. “We are not going to have a residential area if this passes,” she added.
Another neighbor, Karen Fassuliotis, said: “I cannot say that the hospital has been a good neighbor recently. There are cars constantly turning around on Perryridge because they missed the hospital, most of them have New York plates.
“The hospital says it owns the property and can reallocate it or sell it to build a satellite elsewhere,” Fassuliotis continued. “Satellite facilities seem to be the model for most hospitals… in reality, the location is more for the convenience of doctors crossing the street and the convenience of patients. Doctors seemed to indicate that they shouldn’t have to drive 10 to 15 minutes to get to a satellite facility. “
“Reject this request today,” she said.
After nearly three hours, the commissioners proceeded to a series of three votes in response to the three components of the candidacy.
The first was an RMF (multi-family) rezoning of 7 properties the hospital had purchased along Lake Avenue to the H2 (hospital area).
The vote on the zoning change was a split vote with 3 of the 5 members voting against the zoning change.
It was a denial of fact. To pass, it would take 4 votes.
Commission President Margarita Alban and Commissioners Dennis Yeskey and Victoria Goss voted against the zoning change.
Commissioner Peter Levy and Secretary Nick Macri voted to approve the zoning change.
Commissioner Yeskey passionately argued that the zone change to H2 was in direct contradiction to the 2019 Conservation and Development Plan (POCD).
Mr Yeskey pointed out that the hospital had already made 500 West Putnam Avenue a satellite for services and said if the request was denied the hospital would not leave, but would instead find other locations in town.
Plaintiff lawyer Tom Heagney asked if there would also be a residential neighborhood opposition to a Smilow Cancer Center on Route 1.
He noted residential opposition adjacent to a mixed-use development at 581 and 585 West Putnam Ave, an empty office building and a former nightclub respectively.
“Their proposal was for a four-storey, 44-unit apartment building. The comments were that the traffic was already too heavy, the building was too big, that it went against what our community stands for and has tried to preserve. And it’s a property on a national road, ”he said. “If he can’t go here, where would he go?” Port Chester or Stamford? This is the place he needs to go. He has to go for clinical trials and for patient safety and treatment. To think he has to go somewhere else, I think that’s unrealistic. “
Heagney pointed out that the plaintiff made many changes and significantly downsized the building. Originally, the proposal was for an 80,000 square foot building. It has been reduced to 54,000 square feet, with landscaping and architectural changes in response to P&Z an ARC.
Heagney also said the proposed building worked with the site’s topography and had a taller, largely underground first floor, creating a lower profile on Place Lafayette.
He said they were asking for a bigger footprint so they wouldn’t have a taller building.
Heagney also noted that the Healing Garden, which is considered part of the building’s footprint, was largely landscaped.
The chairman of the commission responded by saying that the Smilow Cancer Center app was different because it was not adjacent but rather in a residential area.
Commissioner Macri, who voted yes on rezoning, said he considers H2 and RMF (multi-family) to be equivalent given that both allow buildings of 4 floors and a maximum of the same FAR.
“It’s the same thing,” he said. “These are the same zoning nuts and bolts. On a 94,000 square foot property, you can get 39 housing units. Who knows what kind of traffic generation it would be or what it would look like on the site.
Commissioner Victoria Goss spoke about the balance between two POCD goals: having the best quality health services and maintaining community character and a sense of belonging.
She spoke about impact prevention and commercial activities on residential areas. “If the zone change converts a residential area into an H2 zone, it is an encroachment on a residential area,” she said, citing the two problems for neighbors of noise and safety.
“Even with the admirable Neighborhood Advisory Council, there would be negative effects on residential life in the neighborhood,” she added.
Finally, Goss said, “The hospital has alternatives. This use is permitted in at least 4 other areas in Greenwich. The hospital claims the center must be within walking distance of the current hospital. I am not convinced by this argument.
Ms Alban noted that everyone agreed that Greenwich Hospital was a benefit to the community and that no one objected to the hospital’s services, but rather disagreed with the location of the building. on this particular site.
She agreed that the zoning issue was driven by the 2019 POCD, which placed a high priority on “preserving Greenwich as a premier residential community”. She underlined that the POCD had been adopted by an overwhelming majority by a vote in front of the RTM.
Ms Alban said the commission had done everything possible in the past to encourage requests to convert office space into housing.
“And, we’re now largely in affordable housing (housing), which is residential. By the way, the multi-family is residential, ”she said with reference to the existing RMF zoned properties.
She asked if the hospital had considered mixing living units for staff in the proposed cancer center, and hospital lawyer Mr Heagney said no.
Alban noted how the Applicant characterized the properties as “mixed use”.
“The definition of this area being ‘mixed use’ is confusing at best,” she said, noting that ‘mixed use’ referred to a definition in the regulation. “Look at the POCD. There is a clear line somewhere. We keep saying that we don’t want commercial to encroach on residential. It’s several blocks from Post Road. It encroached. “
“It’s a tough decision,” she said, adding that while the properties were not zoned H2 (hospital area) and Greenwich Hospital instead offered a mixed-use development with residential and office space. medical facilities, and possibly treatment or research areas, this would not “dominate” the neighborhood and not “potentially take it back”.
After the 3-2 split vote against rezoning the hospital area, Ms Alban said she would like the committee to have a little more unity.
Lawyer Heagney, in his closing remarks, said: “It is important to have these services in one place to have synergy between hospital resources, physicians and to be able to serve patients in one place. . “
Diane Kelly, CEO of the hospital, said it was important for clinical trials at the Smilow Cancer Center to take place near the hospital.
“I recognize from everyone that this has been a very thorough process and an important process,” said Kelly. “I am very proud of Smilow. He was appointed by US News and World Report ‘best ranking hospitals as the number one global cancer in Connecticut.
“I understand, no one is opposed to providing the best possible cancer care,” she continued. “What I hear is the objection to the location. I understand that. We have worked really hard to make the location more enjoyable so that we can coexist.
Ms Kelly added that the hospital had made many concessions throughout the process, which she said were very costly.
She said the hospital had listened to complaints from residential neighbors and responded.
“We have heard several complaints about the noise. We have changed when we do (generator) tests. We answer. We are not perfect. We will continue to strive to be better, ”she said.
“This building is more aesthetic than the ones we would replace,” she added.
Ms. Kelly stressed that the proposed location was important.
“To have access to clinical trials, doctors need to be nearby in case of a reaction,” she added, noting that clinical trials can be patients’ last hope and cancer rates are rising.
After the split vote on the rezoning, the other votes were unified.
The second was the request for a text amendment to increase the maximum coverage of buildings.
The vote was 5-0 to reject the amendment of the text.
The third vote was on the application for a site plan and a special permit.
Mr. Yeskey said he was aware that the plaintiff had done a lot to modify the building in response to the comments and that the landscaping had received rave reviews from the CRA.
“But the coverage of the proposed site exceeds what is now allowed in the area,” he said, adding that he had concerns about the surrounding neighborhood and that the cancer center would encroach on them.
He also mentioned the parking lot. “We also addressed a very tight parking situation that will be handled by a valet and an app. We are aware that it will be tight.
Announcement for the traffic, he said he also had concerns about whether the applicant’s estimates of trip generation would be higher than expected.
The vote was 5-0 to refuse the sitemap and the special permit.
After the three votes, Ms Alban said: “I know you’ve all been wandering around with your POCDs under your arms all week. This is probably one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made on the commission and I expect many of you to feel the same way.