The City Council has rejected the idea of a medical hospitality house that would serve the families of sick children at Ellis Hospital.
“It doesn’t appear there’s support in changing the [zoning] code,” Councilwoman Margaret King said.
The sticking point was the location of the house in question. It is in the GE Realty Plot, a historic district of single-family homes and mansions built long ago for the most esteemed General Electric workers.
Those residents opposed the idea, saying they support medical hospitality houses — but not in their neighborhood.
The issue began when the council was asked, by the family of its assistant police chief, to create a new zoning for such houses. The house was to be named Jack’s Place, in honor of Jack Falvo III, who died at 21 in a Jet Ski accident. His father, John Falvo Jr., is one of the city’s assistant chiefs.
Michael Brockbank, who supports the project, offered to sell his house at a below-market-value figure to create Jack’s Place. The house is across the street from Ellis Hospital.
But after other residents protested, city officials crafted a zoning ordinance that would allow medical hospitality houses within 150 feet of medical buildings, but not in historic districts.
At last week’s public hearing, the Falvo family asked that the exemption be dropped, while GE Realty Plot resident Ben Wiles told the council that a medical hospitality house would not be an appropriate use of a historic building.
On Monday, the council agreed with Wiles.
“First of all, I think we need to protect all our historic homes and exclude them,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo.
She said sprinkler systems and other safety devices required for multiuse buildings would “tear up” a historic house.
Other council members said there was no need for the house to be located within 150 feet of a hospital.
The Ronald McDonald House in Albany is a quarter-mile from Albany Medical Center Hospital, Council President Denise Brucker noted.
“Certainly 150 would be convenient,” she said. “I don’t think we should arbitrarily pick a number. Right now we’re limiting them.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy offered to show Brucker maps detailing the number of houses to choose from at 150 feet, 250 feet and other distances, but Brucker declined.
Zoning Officer Steve Strichman said that Ellis Hospital officials, not the Falvo family, wanted the house to be “very close.”
But Brucker said that was not a compelling argument because the hospital “has a lot of skin in this game, since they’re not paying taxes either.”
The hospitality house would be tax-exempt as well.
Perazzo said changing the zone might bring in undesirable medical hospitality houses, including ones that are run poorly.
“Once we change the code, anyone can have a medical hospitality house,” she said.
Councilman Carl Erikson added that he doesn’t want to change the zoning and inadvertently create a way for halfway houses for prison inmates.
The council stopped a proposal for a halfway house by calling for a lengthy analysis of its zoning code, which has now been completed. There are now provisions in the code regulating — and allowing — halfway houses.
Council members said they would reconsider if the organizers propose a specific address and are turned down in the zoning and planning process — which city officials believe is likely. The zoning board already heard the case last year.
Because medical hospitality houses do not exist in the city’s code, a request for one is almost certainly going to be denied, Strichman said.
“So in some way, I think we should address this,” he said.
In other business, Erikson proposed a waiting period for scrap metal sales to discourage vandals from stealing copper pipes.
Vandals have been stripping the copper pipes out of vacant buildings, which makes them nearly worthless. They have also taken copper out of some occupied homes.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said the local scrap yard, Predel’s, is doing a good job of checking IDs and reporting all purchases to the police. But since all copper pipes look alike, he said it’s nearly impossible to make an arrest.
Erikson proposed requiring Predel’s to wait three to five days before paying sellers for the metal they bring to the yard. He said a waiting period might discourage vandals who want quick money.
But other council members said it would be too onerous on Predel’s and would simply push vandals to sell their metal in other cities.
The idea was dropped.