Neighbors voice concerns over hospital expansion

Photo by Daniel Jackovino    About 50 people turned out for an open discussion of the hospital’s future and its impact on them.
Photo by Daniel Jackovino
About 50 people turned out for an open discussion of the hospital’s future and its impact on them.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The planning boards of Glen Ridge and Montclair held a joint meeting Monday, Feb. 29, in the Montclair Fire Department Headquarters to discuss the proposed redevelopment project at Mountainside Hospital. Approximately 50 people attended.

The purpose of the meeting, according to Glen Ridge Assistant Engineer Michael Zichelli was to draft the language of a redevelopment plan and send it along to the respective councils for the adoption of an ordinance. During the meeting, the one overriding belief was that nothing has been cut in stone yet. This perception gave residents of both communities the opportunity to weigh-in on how the project should progress and that what they had to say meant something.

Speakers for the redevelopment consultant, H2M, told the audience that the proposal, to demolish the vacated nursing school building and replace it with a medical office building with the necessary parking space, would be affecting 20 lots or eight acres on the borderline of the two communities.

They said the project — a 60,000 square-foot medical office building, was being undertaken because of a severe shortage of primary-care physicians in the area. They said one of their chief concerns was to be respectful to the community in which the hospital was located.

The medical office building, MOB in consultant jargon, was to be 45 feet high. The building would cover 20 percent of the land on which it would be placed. Another 75 percent of the area was proposed to be covered with impervious material. Flooding and a lack of green space was a concern for some residents when it was their time to speak.

A parking deck was included in the project, It was proposed to be 65 feet high and cover, as with the MOB, about 95 percent of the ground with impervious material.

But the consultant said the Glen Ridge Historical Commission was consulted and it offered suggestions to mitigate the visual impact of the MOB. The commission recommended banning faux finishes in favor of brick, stone or pre-cast masonry.
Parking will be available for a little over 1,000 cars within gated areas.

One Montclair resident, Theresa Minetti, whose house will be an island within the project, came with a petition bearing 79 signatures.

“The plan leaves our home in the middle of a parking lot,” she told the planning boards. “It makes it virtually impossible for the fire department or ambulance to come to our aid.”
She said a relative living with her is quite ill.

“We’ve paid taxes for over 90 years,” she said. “Now we’re being abandoned. Financially, it’s impossible to find a two-family home.”

She said the project makes it difficult for her to sell her house.
“Everyone is getting a 40-foot buffer,” she said. “We’re getting 4 feet.”
Glen Ridge resident Paul Gervino wanted to know when surgical facilities were added to the MOB. He said the additional beds would have an impact on the sewer system.

“It happened to my father,” he said. “In his basement, sewage and hypodermic needles. Why haven’t the sewer systems in this town been addressed?”

Carmen Lockman asked for a buffer area between Roswell Terrace and the project. She was concerned the project would eliminate mature trees.

William Scott, the co-chair of the Montclair Housing Commission, complained that the MHC was never involved in the planning.

“We heard about affordable housing, saving some of the housing,” he said.
Eight houses are being lost due to the proposed project.

“I want to say for the record we were not engaged at the beginning of the project,” he said. “Other organizations were — the Glen Ridge Historical Commission, the Economic Commission of Montclair.”

He said there has been a physical loss of housing in Montclair that was not considered by people involved with the project.
Jonathan Moore, a member of the Montclair Zoning Board, said the size of the project is going to influence a community.
“I did not hear what LEED certification the project would have,” he said in reference to energy-conservation measures. “Also, I would have liked to have seen more renderings of the buildings. I know I’m not the only person saying that.”
He called the proposal an opportunity to be transformational.

“I’d like to see what we’re talking about,” he said.
Janelle Santos, a Montclair resident complained that hospital employees litter on her property.
“I had people come into my backyard when my children were playing,” she said. “No, no.”

Lynn Scott, a Glen Ridge resident on Roswell Terrace, said these residents were shown plans, the plans latter changed. She said the front of the MOB was moved.

“It would be very helpful in the future if any meetings could be upright, forthcoming and honest,” she said.
Christina Gabriel said she lived on Laurel Street, Glen Ridge.

“It’s 24-feet 9-inches in width,” she said. “It’s our little street.”
She said with traffic flow expected to impact Glen Ridge, she wanted to know why the concerns of her street have not been addressed.

“We are one block from these changes,” she said. “My neighbors and I don’t believe safety has been addressed. We ask you to think about this from our perspective. Suppose this was about your children?”

Another resident complained that the hospital is already a bad neighbor, discarding purple gloves on the street.
“If you need to know how good a neighbor it is,” this woman said, “just walk along the area. When I came to Montclair, it was known for its trees. Now it will be known for its parking lots.”

Another woman complained about the decrease in property value of the house she lives in, a house her grandfather purchased with war bonds following World War II.

She was assured by John Wynn, the chairman of the Montclair Planning Board, that the redevelopment project, once completed, would increase property values in the area.