Rhinebeck planners ask for green space commitment at NDH

Northern Dutchess Hospital brought its controversial expansion plan one step closer to approval at the Dec. 3 village planning board meeting. During the meeting, the planning board reflected on comments and criticism offered during the public hearing on Nov. 19, and presented their own requirements for hospital representatives to consider.

The discussion focused on familiar key topics: parking, green space, lighting and landscaping.

First, the board expressed concern that there is not sufficient parking for the public during peak hours of doctor visits, shift changes, and patient visits. They asked that the hospital require staff to be more sensitive toward parking, which may mean the employees need to walk a bit farther from the parking lot to the building. Hospital representatives agreed to add better signage for staff parking.

Public concern has focused on the hospital’s proposal to replace some of the green space in front of the hospital with expanded parking. In its discussion with hospital representatives, the planning board used aerial photos from 1936 to the present to show that the most recent site plan revision will actually retain more green space than existed prior to the construction of the Paul Rosenthal Pavilion in 2004. Before that, there was even more parking in front of the hospital than is currently proposed.

To avoid future discussions on the topic, the planning board asked the hospital to include a statement in their site plan that commits Health Quest to maintaining the green space in front of the hospital. The board stopped short of requesting a conservation easement on the space, but instead requested a note on the site plan to indicate it is the intention of the village planning board that the space be kept as green space.

The board agreed with the village tree commission’s report, which said that the hospital should plant fewer trees than the 107 they have proposed, citing a concern that as the trees grow, they will not have enough space to be healthy.

Instead of vinyl fencing, the board requested that the hospital use wooden fencing for great longevity. The board also discussed the lighting plan in detail and asked that the hospital maintain parking lot lighting that minimizes glare.

At the public hearings, the hospital’s neighbors were concerned that an addition may restrict water drainage. But the village engineer told the planning board at the Dec. 3 meeting that this is not a concern because the new building will be constructed on top of what is currently a parking area and so will not create additional water buildup.

The revised plans call for the new building to be 38 feet 6 inches high, but the zoning law allows for a maximum height of 35 feet. The board unanimously recommended the hospital to the ZBA for a variance of 3 feet 6 inches.

The board also voted unanimously to amend its previous negative declaration for environmental effects, originally passed in August, as part of the State Environmental Quality Review process. The SEQR determination made by the planning board in August is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the group Save Rhinebeck’s Green Space, which claims the board did not review environmental factors of the project with enough care.

Health Quest was expected to appear at the planning board’s Dec. 17 meeting with an amended plan reflecting the changes discussed and agreed upon. The application for a height variance will be reviewed at the next ZBA meeting Dec. 19 at 7pm.

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