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The Conversation on Saratoga Springs’ Proposed Zoning Map: Our Perspective

From the desk of:

February 27, 2019

 

To our neighbors:

Many of you know that the Saratoga Springs City Council is concluding its work to align the city’s zoning map to the city’s approved comprehensive plan. This alignment, which is a state-mandated initiative, has been a long-term, citywide process, with open public debate and city council deliberation over the past four years. There have been newspaper articles written, neighborhood meetings and, yes, the upcoming decisions have our attention, too.

First, I want to say that I respect the right of all members of the community to be informed and to voice support or opposition for matters that affect all of us. I encourage that dialog. We all benefit from informed discussions.

The concept of a medical office building in close proximity and within walking distance of the hospital’s main campus, as was first proposed in 2015, is still of interest to us.

I believe it’s important to consider all of the facts, all of the issues, openly and objectively.

 

The Saratoga Hospital Medical Group: Better patient care

The Saratoga Hospital Medical Group is our multi-specialty group practice, a team of more than 250 doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants providing medical care in more than 30 specialties.

The working model of a hospital medical group is to provide a higher level of coordinated, collaborative care. The goal is to constantly strive to improve patient care. A strong working relationship between our hospital and its medical group is also a driving force to attract top-level talent to Saratoga Springs. That is a fact.

This model is further enhanced when medical offices are in close proximity to the hospital. Our medical group believes in the medical office project. It is recognized as a best practice, resulting in better patient care, especially for our patients with the most critical care needs at our hospital. That is not really up for debate.

 

Our medical office project: The best option in a complex environment

In order to have a constructive dialog about the medical office project we will likely be proposing, it’s important that we address the realities.

Committing a hospital’s main campus resources to meet the most critical care needs of our patients is recognized as a best practice in healthcare.

Yes, we have an obligation to this neighborhood. At the same time, Saratoga Hospital has an obligation to the entire community this hospital is committed to serving. The decision-making for our project rests with the City Council. The implication of those decisions impacts the greater part of Saratoga County and beyond.

 

Where we started

The most recent design presented in 2015 was modified based on public comments:

  • A 75,000 square-foot building, expandable by 13,000 square feet
  • West and south elevations were reduced from almost 59 feet to under 53 feet
  • North elevation was reduced from over 55 feet to under 42 feet
  • 300 parking spaces, approximately 90 for staff
  • The 8.54-acre building site would include the office building, parking, and substantial greenspace with landscaping to reduce the visual impact of the project
  • Full occupancy would take 5+ years
  • Medical office rental space savings are projected at $750,000 per year
  • Energy-efficient design will increase utility cost savings
  • All savings will be committed to building costs and to patient care improvements

If the opportunity to revisit the medical office project becomes a reality, this would be our starting point, all
predicated on how the revised zoning map unfolds.

 

Over the years, we have proven to be a good neighbor

One way or another, the assumption must be that the property at the top of Myrtle Street will be sold and ultimately developed. We do not own the property. Any other development options for the property are outside our control.

If the hospital moves forward, our objectives are clear. If another developer purchases the property, those objectives are also clear — to maximize profits.

If the hospital moves forward, we will be your neighbor. Over the years, we have proven to be a good neighbor, immediately addressing issues or concerns within our control, and finding or helping find solutions. Often, we
have invested resources to resolve issues, which were outside our role or responsibility, because it was the right thing to do. Our door is always open.

If another developer purchases the property, any issues or concerns that may come up will likely become decentralized, perhaps even out of state. Finding the right door, and someone opening that door to listen and respond to an issue, will be far more difficult.

 

Listening and addressing concerns

Our current plan is to construct an energy-efficient, well-conceived, well-designed, and well-engineered building, tucked into the southeast corner of the property, buffered by landscaping, with controlled and focused lighting, and on-site stormwater management. Every aspect of this project will meet or exceed regulatory requirements.

Some have voiced concern about well-regulated issues such as blasting for foundation work. As we have stated before, this, by design, would be minimized and meet or exceed all local or state regulations. And as we’ve said, if there are any unforeseen property issues as a result of our construction, our door is open.

In my opinion, if another developer purchases the property, maximizing the return on investment may likely equate to a broader and denser housing project, and likely less willingness to compromise.

If any type of housing development goes forward, that new expansion of the neighborhood will be active 24 hours a day, seven days a week — evenings and weekends. Our project is planned for a limited time of specific weekday activity. After-hours lighting is required for security; this lighting will be dimmed and narrowly focused.

The hospital also promotes security on a different level. The hospital has 24-hour, seven-day-a-week on-campus security. Our security team patrols our main campus throughout the day and night. It is also true that, as a part of our normal operation, there is law enforcement present on our main campus — NYS Troopers, Saratoga County Sheriff, or Saratoga City Police presence. We believe this sense of security extends beyond our main campus.

Our project includes promised infrastructure investments. There has been a legitimate concern raised about traffic. We have and will continue to work with local and state authorities to address and manage traffic and safety
— widening of Morgan and Myrtle streets where possible, sidewalks, street lighting, and traffic management, including new stop signs. I am not convinced another developer would readily address these issues.

If the hospital does not move forward with this project on this parcel of land, we may revisit the concept of building adjacent to the hospital’s main campus, on the hill on the west side of Myrtle Street where our current employee and visitor parking is located. If this concept were to move forward, we would still be bringing staff and patients to the main campus. If another developer purchases the land at the top of Myrtle Street and expands the neighborhood, that will increase traffic and compound the traffic concerns.

Building “on the hill” was fully explored and determined to be the less viable solution on many levels. Building on the hill would require constructing an 800-space, multilevel parking garage to accommodate the employee
and visitor parking displaced by the new office building and parking garage, as well as for the additional parking needed for the new building.

In this scenario, all of the current parking demands would be dispersed throughout the surrounding neighborhood for upwards of two years during construction. This redistributed parking would account for hospital staffing and shift changes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Constructing a parking garage is estimated at $10 million dollars above the cost of the office building. We believe that would be an irresponsible use of the community’s resources, money that should be directed to patient care and patient safety.

Some have claimed that it’s all about money. Money is indeed part of the equation. It is no secret that healthcare costs continue to increase. Every hospital must be cognizant of responsible fiscal management. We live in an
ever-changing healthcare environment. Payer variabilities and Medicare rules and regulations dictate that we must be accountable to costs and cost savings. Any hospital that does not pay attention to money, to identifying cost efficiencies and conscientiously optimizing revenue, runs the risk of failure. We choose responsibility over risk.

Some have voiced concern about property values. Our research does not support a negative impact on property values as the hospital has expanded. In fact, anecdotally, private listings and broker listings for homes or property for sale, or homes or apartments for rent in our neighborhood have promoted proximity to the hospital as a benefit.

 

What makes us Saratoga Hospital

Saratoga Hospital has been taking care of patients at this location for more than 100 years, well before there was a neighborhood to our north and east and west.

We know we are fortunate to be a part of this community. We do not take that for granted. We are successful because the people of Saratoga encourage, support, and trust us to deliver the best care possible. That is our job. And part of that job is to constantly evaluate how we can best meet the changing needs of the community we serve.

Our hospital is a nonprofit community asset, governed by a local board of trustees, a board of dedicated members of the Saratoga community who volunteer and dedicate their time, energy, and expertise to guide the decisions we make on how we provide the very best care possible for every member of our community.

Our management team is made up of healthcare professionals — clinical, technical, financial, operational, and infrastructure professionals — experts who bring years of experience from across the state and across the country to Saratoga Springs.

We are one of the largest employers in the county, with almost 3,000 employees, contributing to the economic vitality of our staff’s neighborhoods and local communities.

 

The demand on medical services we provide has grown

The entire Saratoga region has grown — one of the fastest growing regions in New York state. So has the demand on the medical services we provide.

We have reached out beyond our main campus to be closer to the people we serve. Examples include our Wilton campus, the Saratoga Community Health Center, our Malta campus, our regional therapy centers, and seven primary care offices across the greater Saratoga region — from Schuylerville to Mechanicville to Scotia-Glenville.

Our 20+ locations serve two broad purposes: outreach and access. However, the hospital’s main campus is the anchor, where the most sophisticated medical technology is located and the majority of our care providers take care of patients with the most critical needs.

Our capital investments on our main campus are already maximizing our main-campus footprint:

  • The hospital’s expanded emergency department
  • New state-of-the-art intensive care unit
  • Ten new surgical operating suites
  • Our expanded cardiovascular and interventional suite
  • New on-campus infusion bays
  • The Radiation Oncology Center

It is imperative that any space available on our main campus, including a tower concept above our emergency department and ICU, be protected for future demands on critical care services that can only be delivered in the hospital setting.

 

Finding the best solution

I hope I have provided a clear perspective of our motivation and our good intentions to provide the best possible healthcare services for the community we serve.

I know many will still be opposed to our plan for their own reasons. I also recognize that some will question every word, perhaps selectively quote what I have offered to you in this letter. But I hope any opposition is for the right reasons, all things considered.

Please be assured that we explore every option, every alternative to make the best long-term investment of resources required to be successful in meeting our public obligation. I hope we can all work together to come to the best solution for our friends and families, our neighbors, and the entire Saratoga community.

Sincerely,

Angelo G. Calbone

President and Chief Executive Officer
Saratoga Hospital

Note: This email address is specifically for you to voice your concerns and, even, your support: AngeloCalbone@SaratogaHospital.org.

 
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