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Saratoga council to take up two controversial topics on Monday

Saratoga council to take up two controversial topics on Monday

Hospital project has been discussed for years; ambulance service contract a new development
Saratoga council to take up two controversial topics on Monday
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Photographer: A rendering of the proposed Saratoga Hospital medical office building.

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The Saratoga Springs City Council plans to make a decision on a proposed zoning map change for a potential Saratoga Hospital medical office building near the hospital during a special meeting on Monday.

The council also plans to discuss and potentially make a decision on a new controversy, concerning a proposal for city ambulance services to cover the southeast corner of the town of Greenfield, just outside the city line, in 2020.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the meeting room at the city Recreation Center.

The council held its second public hearing on the proposed zoning change on Tuesday night, hearing for just over an hour from neighbors who oppose the hospital's plans for an 80,000-square-foot office building on 18 acres of vacant land at Myrtle and Morgan streets, next to several residential neighborhoods. The council also heard from hospital supporters, as it did during the first public hearing on the issue two weeks ago.

The hospital has been seeking permission to build a three-story office building since at least 2014, with an earlier effort blocked after two City Council members, including then-mayor Joanne Yepsen, recused themselves from voting because of potential conflicts. Neighbors have consistently spoken out against the plan.

Many of the neighbors believe the office building would harm the character of the neighborhood and potentially decrease their property values, as well as increase traffic. Even some neighbors who support the hospital say traffic and drainage issues in the area need to be addressed before the plan moves forward.

Hospital officials say the new building is needed due to growth at the hospital, and will also consolidate medical staff who now use rented offices -- but having it would also increase the hospital's level of Medicaid reimbursement, and reduce costs for renting offices at other locations.

A comprehensive land use plan adopted by the city in 2015 recommended the zoning of the parcel be changed, though neighbors say that happened largely without their knowledge. If the zoning change is approved, the hospital's detailed plans would still need to go through site plan review by the city Planning Board.

The council will also discuss the proposed one-year Greenfield ambulance contract, which has been questioned by some residents of the city's East Side, who have been looking for more than a decade to get better ambulance service on the city's eastern outer district.

"Why would we provide ambulance service to another community when the Assistant Fire Chief (Peter Shaw) said we are unable to provide ambulance transports for all of the calls in our own city?," East Side resident Len Squillacioti said in an open letter to neighbors and city officials, referring to instances when the city has had to call for private or mutual aid backup to its two ambulances.

Under the proposed contract, which the Greenfield Town Board has already approved, the city of Saratoga Springs will be paid $60,000 per year to provide ambulance coverage of the southeastern corner of Greenfield, including the Prestwick Chase senior housing complex, which generates a large percentage of that area's calls. In addition to the payment, the city -- which operates ambulance service through its fire department -- would be able to bill insurance companies and individuals for calls.

In recent years, the Wilton Ambulance Corps has contracted to serve that part of Greenfield; Greenfield contracts with different ambulance agencies to cover different parts of that town. The area Saratoga would cover generates between 100-150 calls per year.

The contract proposed by Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin was originally scheduled for a vote during Tuesday's meeting. However, other council members asked for more time to get their questions about the contract answered along with determining the position the firefighters' union has taken on it. 

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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