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Saratoga Hospital office building proposal appears doomed

Saratoga Hospital office building proposal appears doomed

Saratoga Hospital’s controversial plan to build a medical office building next to a residential area

Saratoga Hospital’s controversial plan to build a medical office building next to a residential area north of the hospital is dead, City Council members said.

With two members of the council already having recused themselves from voting on the project, a third, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, said Tuesday he wouldn’t support the necessary zoning change.

“I don’t believe this is in the best interest of the city long-term,” Mathiesen said of the project.

The discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting was the first public debate since neighbors last Friday filed a “protest petition” against the zoning change, which would force a four-fifths council majority vote to approve the zoning change, rather than a simple three-vote majority.

With Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Accounts Commissioner John Franck having recused themselves, the council has only three votes available, and now Mathiesen has said he’s against the project.

“There appears to be no way for this to pass. I think the hospital should redirect its efforts, maybe build on-site,” Mathiesen said.

The hospital sought a zoning change from residential to planned unit development for 16 acres of vacant land where it would build a 75,000-square-foot medical office building. The land is on Morgan Street, about a block north of the hospital.

Hospital officials believe that centralizing doctors’ offices near the hospital would improve medical care. But during four council public hearings in December and January, neighbors turned out in force to oppose the project.

City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said the protest petition appeared valid, though the signatures of the neighbors weren’t “witnessed.” But he acknowledged that was a technical legal issue that could be quickly addressed. The city zoning law says signatures from owners of 20 percent of adjoining land are needed to make a protest petition valid. In this case, he said, all the surrounding landowners signed.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who conducted the meeting after Yepsen’s recusal, said she was disappointed that two council members weren’t participating. She believes that the city might have been able to negotiate a solution with the hospital.

“We listened, but we never had the opportunity to weigh in,” Madigan said.

Yepsen recused herself two weeks ago because her private fundraising firm is considering a contract with the hospital foundation. Franck recused himself at the same time because he has prepared financial statements and tax returns for two homeowners’ associations that oppose the project.

The 16-acre site is designated for future hospital use in the city’s latest comprehensive land use plan, which was adopted last June.

Mathiesen said he would like to rescind that designation, but neither Madigan nor Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco agreed.

“I think it’s a moot point at this particular point in time,” Scirocco said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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