Ellis Hospital found ways to dim the lights in its revised parking garage proposal, but neighbors told the Zoning Board of Appeals that they didn’t want any garage at all.
After an hour of impassioned statements from residents, the board decided to table the proposal until it could find out more about lighting and noise. Board members said they also needed more time to review the hospital’s environmental impact statement.
Residents argued that the five-story garage would loom over the adjacent residential neighborhood, turning night into day with its constant lights and keeping people awake with the sound of traffic.
Ellis President and CEO James Connolly tried to appeal to the dozens of residents who stood against his project.
He told them that he should have taken more time to better design the garage, which had been approved to be a three-story building. When other costs in the emergency department expansion were less than expected, he had enough money to add to the garage, and his architects did so too quickly, he said.
“We rushed. We didn’t communicate well. We didn’t listen well to the neighbors’ concerns,” he said. “And for that we are sorry.”
His architects explained that they had amended the proposal to include baffles that would block most of the interior light and some of the noise. The proposal also moved the building back slightly from the sidewalk — 15 feet back — and made it slightly smaller.
But it would still be 52 feet tall.
Some neighbors were appeased by the changes.
Sondra Stephens, who lives across the street from the hospital, said she could not have “wholeheartedly” supported the previous proposal.
But this one, she said, was reasonable.
She added that it would keep patients from parking on the side streets and said there had to be some place for their cars.
“They’re going to be coming anyway,” she said.
Another resident described the frustration shared by many in the neighborhood who find their streets filled with parked cars every day. They often can’t find a place to park near their own homes.
But some of the neighbors said the parking garage would not address that problem.
They noted that most of the people who park along those streets are hospital employees. Ellis has tried to combat that for years and built an off-site lot for employees with a shuttle to the hospital. But many employees prefer the convenience of parking near the hospital.
They would not be allowed to park in the new garage, just as they are not allowed to park in the hospital’s existing garage.
Many residents questioned why a larger garage was needed, describing their recent experiences at the ER. They had rushed in for emergency care and had visited family members in the hospital without ever having a problem finding parking, they said.
Former City Engineer Paul Casillo asked for a traffic study on how many spaces would actually be needed for the ER.
“How many people are taken in an ambulance? How many are dropped off? How many walk from the neighborhood?” he asked.
Hospital officials said they decided on a five-story garage because they thought they would need four to six spaces for every 1,000 square feet in the ER. However, their calculations appeared to include the entire ER, not the square footage of the increase.
In total, 10 residents spoke against the project, and many others signed a petition opposing it.
But many of those who spoke cited frustration with the construction of the new emergency department. One resident said the opposition to the taller garage was due to “construction fatigue.”
And most said they were unhappy with any garage, predicting that the location would send too much traffic down their residential streets as patients race to the ER.
“Traffic will increase tremendously,” said Louis DiCerbo, who lives on Rosa Road.
Others said the building was simply too big.
Nancy Mills, who lives next door to the proposed garage on Athol Road, complained about pictures that showed how little of the garage would be seen amid the trees in the neighborhood.
“Those leaves are gone at least half the year,” Mills said, calling the garage “a monstrous structure which does not belong in a residential neighborhood.”