Ellis Hospital’s proposal to build a five-story parking garage on Rosa Avenue has improved, but not enough to garner the support of the city’s Planning Commission.
After hearing nearly two hours of comments and deliberations Wednesday evening, members of the commission unanimously elected to table the proposal hotly contested by nearby residents until hospital officials can further mitigate some of their concerns. Chairwoman Sharran Coppola urged the hospital to return with additional renderings of the structure and continue efforts to lessen its impact on the surrounding neighborhood before returning next month.
None of the commission members expressed support for the proposal as it was presented Wednesday. Some cited how the structure would have lasting impacts on the area, while others questioned whether the 390 spaces created by the structure would ever be justified by the hospital’s expanded emergency department.
“In my mind, I can not mitigate the size and height of the building with the actual need,” Coppola said.
The city previously approved a three-story garage with 212 spaces that would help accommodate parking for the emergency department’s 28,000-square-foot expansion. But hospital officials argue their initial projections were constrained by finances at the time and that the additional spaces are needed.
“The need has never changed,” said Paul Milton, the hospital’s chief operating officer. “We’ve always needed this number of parking spaces for the building we’re constructing. The need is going to be there, no question about it.”
The hospital pushed back the entrance and exit to the building 18 feet from Rosa Road, while the overall setback was pushed to 15 feet. Architects for the project claim this will greatly reduce the building’s impact on the neighborhood.
The hospital added brick colonnades and louvered elements to help improve the structure’s street-level aesthetics, in addition to reducing the impact from noise and light. Mature 20-foot-tall blue spruce trees were suggested for the front landscaping to further improve the appearance.
But the changes did little to win over neighbors. Davis Etkin of Wendell Avenue said the building will result in a drop in property values and will diminish the health of the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s a bad deal for the neighborhood, and the hospital doesn’t need it,” he told the commission.
Erika Scott, a 42-year resident of Rosa Road, said the new structure isn’t suited for the area. She also questioned the impact of vehicles entering and exiting the building around the clock and why Ellis would ever need a structure the size of the one being proposed.
“Ellis Medicine can never be Albany Med,” she said. “The space is not there.”
Paul Casillo of Wendell Avenue said the building with its top-deck lights will rise roughly 67 feet. He also questioned the veracity of information the hospital provided the zoning board to gain a waiver for the tall building.
“To approve this garage would be to the detriment of the neighborhood,” he said. “The city needs this neighborhood more than Ellis needs this garage.”
Nancy Mills of Athol Road fears the garage will create a cacophony that will disturb surrounding homes. She envisions car alarms and other noises associated with vehicles permeating into her home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s not the place to put a parking garage directly across the street from a residential neighborhood,” she said.
Likewise, members of the commission weren’t won over by the changes. Commission member Tom Carey said the plans were an improvement, but still didn’t go far enough to alleviate his concerns over the project.
“It’s not as bad as it was at first, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough,” he said.