Neighbors call it the “creep.”
For years, black pavement has spread down Belmont Avenue, covering the grass behind the houses and then finally displacing the houses themselves. One by one, residents have sold their property to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, which has demolished houses to make parking lots.
There are now 470 spaces surrounding the hospital, but it’s still not enough. Sunnyview wants to buy another house, at 1280 Belmont Ave., and tear it down to make room for 20 more cars. And more is coming — the hospital needs at least 110 spaces and called the new proposal a short-term solution to a critical parking shortage.
This plan has generated some controversy, but most neighbors have gotten so used to the slowly spreading parking lot that they don’t mind anymore.
“It just keeps creeping up,” said Charlene DeLuca, who watched the hospital demolish the house across the street from hers. “It doesn’t matter — they’ve got almost the whole block.”
She would prefer houses over rows of cars, of course, but she’s not going to fight the hospital.
“It looks better than a parking lot, but it’s empty,” she said of the latest house on Sunnyview’s demolition list. “As long as they block it with trees, I don’t have a problem with it.”
The Schenectady Planning Commission is not as sanguine. The commission rejected Sunnyview’s request to turn 1280 Belmont into a parking lot, a move that would have required a zoning change and would later require a special use permit. Commission members said they want Sunnyview to develop a long-term parking plan, perhaps a new parking garage, an expansion of the nearby Ellis Hospital garage, or a shuttle program in which employees park elsewhere and are bused to the hospital.
Sunnyview officials said all three options would cost far too much. When the Planning Commission refused to yield, they took the unusual step of appealing to the Schenectady City Council where they may find a more sympathetic ear.
After Director of Facilities John Hogan made his pitch at Monday’s committee meeting, council President Margaret King said she wants to help.
“We do value you as a key employer. We want to find a way to make this work,” she said.
Councilman Gary McCarthy asked whether the council had to take any unusual legal steps to overrule the Planning Commission and suggested the city help Sunnyview pay for one of the more expensive parking options.
“We ought to line up the money to either expand that parking garage at Ellis or put one up at Sunnyview,” he said, adding that otherwise, “You just end up with a mediocre project and they’re back here in three years, five years.”
Only Director of Operations Sharon Jordan and Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard spoke against the plan.
Jordan, who sat in for the mayor at Monday’s meeting, urged the council to support the Planning Commission’s decision.
“They denied this based on the fact that there’s no long-term plan,” she said. “I feel we need to know what’s going to happen in the long term with Ellis. And they did not have that information.”
Ellis, which is adjacent to Sunnyview, also does not have enough space for its employees and customers to park on campus. The two hospitals could pool resources to help solve the parking crunch, Jordan said.
Blanchard took a different tack. She said the expansion wouldn’t be fair to resident Jean DePasquale, who would live next to the new parking lot. DePasquale’s back yard is also bounded by Sunnyview cars, and she has firmly opposed the proposal.
When interviewed later, DePasquale said she wants to preserve the neighborhood where she has spent her entire life.
“The house next door is a very well-built house. It deserves to have a family move in,” she said, adding that a parking lot could never compare to the beauty of the neat, white house with distinctive yellow shutters.
“The house is so beautiful inside,” she said. “And she made one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen.”
She sighed as she looked out at the parking lot that has crept up behind her house and down the street.
“This neighborhood is no longer a first-class neighborhood,” she said. “Everybody’s quality of life has already decreased. They should’ve considered building vertically, not horizontally, so all these taxpaying houses could stay.”
Hogan told the council that he hopes to eventually buy DePasquale’s house, as well as the two houses on the corner next to her. At that point, the hospital will own that entire side of the street — and all of it will be parking.
But DePasquale said she won’t ever sell.
“Fat chance,” she said, explaining that no other house could replace what she has here — memories.
“My father planted all these trees along the edge here. I was as tall as they were when he planted them,” she said.
But she appears to be the only neighbor who is vehemently opposed.
“To be honest with you, I don’t care,” said James Marx, who lives across the street from the house that would become a parking lot.
The house has been rented for the past year, and he wasn’t happy with his new neighbors, he explained.
“They put some really crappy tenants in. I’d rather see a parking lot and not have to worry what I’m living across from,” he said.
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