MVC will vote tonight on hospital
Anxious to avoid further delays that could send the cost of the new hospital project soaring and hoping to get a decision on their project this evening, the Martha's Vineyard Hospital trustees this week announced that they have dropped an off-site parking lot from the application under review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Elimination of the parking lot means there is no longer a requirement to reopen the public hearing on Dec. 14 - which would be the fourth evening hearing on the hospital plan - to resolve a procedural question that arose because the lot was not part of the hospital's original DRI application.
The MVC is scheduled to meet tonight on the project at 6:30 pm at its offices in the Stone Building on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs. MVC executive director Mark London said the MVC would do its best to arrive at a decision.
The MVC could approve the hospital's $42 million renovation and expansion project, approve it with conditions, or deny it.
Hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh said the hospital decided to drop the parking lot from the plan when it became apparent that zoning issues surrounding the land, which is owned by the state Department of Mental Health, could not be resolved speedily. He said the hospital would return to the MVC in the future about the parking lot.
"We need to get going," said Mr. Walsh. "Every delay cost us lots of money."
He estimated that the cost of delays after the first of the year would be approximately $400,000 per month.
In an e-mail to The Times yesterday, Mr. London said the hospital had concluded that, although discussions with the Department of Mental Health are going well, "it will take more time to work out an agreement and to clarify the zoning issue. Hence, the hospital has asked the commission to defer consideration of the parking lot proposal. The hospital recognizes the need for additional parking and anticipates that in a possible approval of the hospital DRI, the commission may stipulate such a requirement."
Although some MVC members have insisted that the hospital look at alternative sites, hospital leaders have insisted that the current Beach Road site in Eastville is the only financially possible alternative, given the estimated $70 million price tag to build on a new site. This fall, hospital leaders announced that they had raised $38 million of the $42 million cost of the plan on the Beach Road site. The $5 million shortfall would be erased by a payment from Partners HealthCare, in an affiliation deal between Partners and MVHospital, now under review.
Yesterday, Mr. Walsh told The Times he expected parking to be an issue, but did not anticipate that the lot would become a major snag. Mr. Walsh said that the original plan included more parking spaces nearer Beach Road. He said the hospital began looking off-site when MVC planners indicated a need for more of a buffer zone.
Mr. Walsh hopes that the MVC will vote tonight. He said that, based on what he has seen so far from the MVC's land use planning committee (LUPC), which provides a preliminary report to the full commission, he did not expect the MVC to impose any conditions that would be problems.
Last Friday, the LUPC wrapped up its post-DRI public hearing review, still contemplating action on the parking lot. The committee voted to recommend that the full commission give preliminary approval to the portion of the project on the main hospital property, subject to change if new information came out at the reopened public hearing on the proposed staff parking lot on Dec. 14. The LUPC did not make a recommendation on the parking lot, because it expected to reopen the public hearing on Dec. 14. The committee's final report included the hospital's offers and suggested conditions from the LUPC.
During the almost 15 hours of public hearings on the hospital DRI conducted over three nights last month, the off-site parking lot became the main sticking point for many of the commissioners, despite the fact it was an outgrowth of their suggestions during the planning process. The parking lot proposal was not part of the hospital's original DRI plans but developed during discussions in pre-planning sessions between hospital officials and the LUPC.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Tim Sweet, vice chairman of the hospital's trustees, said the LUPC suggested that the number of parking spaces proposed for the new hospital was inadequate and advised hospital officials to find a way to expand. However, the LUPC also wanted the buffer zone enhanced between the hospital and the surrounding roads, which limited the options for parking lot expansion. As a compromise, Mr. Sweet said, the hospital came up with the idea of the off-site employee parking lot. The parcel for the proposed lot is located on land between Eastville and Temahigan Avenues, across the street from the Emergency entrance to hospital.
In response to objections from abutters in the Eastville Avenue neighborhood, hospital planners scaled back the original plans for the off-site parking lot to fewer spaces, added a larger buffer zone around it, and agreed to one entrance on Temahigan Avenue.
A few weeks ago, the MVC granted party status to another group of abutters, the Eastville Homeowners and Taxpayers Association (EHTA) whose homes are on Windemere Road. The designation allows the organization the right to appeal the MVC's decision on the hospital project.
In a letter to the editor this week (see Page 34), Windemere Road homeowners Victor and Judith Linn propose several mitigation measures the hospital should take to address their issues regarding construction and noise, increased parking and traffic demands, and income loss.
The Linns argue that abutters and neighbors will lose seasonal rentals and suffer a loss of income during the hospital's 30-month construction time. They suggested that the town of Oak Bluffs consider abatement of real estate taxes or perhaps a line item added to the hospital's construction budget to subsidize the real estate taxes for the abutters who are impacted.
Although the Eastville section of Oak Bluffs is not included in the town's historical district, members of the Oak Bluffs Historical Commission submitted written testimony during the public hearing against the parking lot because it would "compromise the residential character" for two houses that remain in that block that were built around 1818. The historical commission also asked to meet with the MVC and the hospital to review the architectural features of the proposed new hospital building such as roof pitches, decorative elements, and building materials.
During the DRI public hearing sessions last month, several commissioners questioned the need for the additional parking lot and said it was further evidence that the hospital should relocate to a bigger site.
Others suggested constructing underground parking, which architects said would cost $5 million for 100 spaces, or elevated parking, at a cost of $3 million for 100 spaces, compared to $100,000 for the same number of spaces in the off-site lot.
On Tuesday, in response to requests from some of the commissioners for aid in visualizing the height of the proposed new three-story hospital building, the MVC staff floated helium-filled balloons to represent the proposed building's height and boundaries.
In 2004, Martha's Vineyard Hospital leaders unveiled a revised design for a new three-story 150,000-square-foot hospital building with a price tag of $42 million.
Plans call for the existing 1974 wooden hospital building to be renovated and used for doctors' offices, hospital administration offices and outside health-care providers such as Hospice and the Vineyard Nursing Association. The new hospital building would include private patient beds, state-of-the-art medical facilities, electronic links to Boston medical facilities and specialists, and a new modern emergency department.