Highland Hospital Sprawl

kerry c regan SWQ Spring 2014

Highland Hospital has purchased the bordering residence at 27 Bellevue Drive, and hospital officials have revealed an as-yet-unspecified plan to expand the hospital’s footprint in the neighborhood.

According to Barbara Ficarra, Highland Hospital’s director of Public Relations, the expansion is needed to accommodate the hospital’s emerging role as a regional resource providing services to a wider area than it has served as a neighborhood facility. "We have really tried as much as possible to move some clinical programs and staff off site to make room within the hospital for the growth that we need," she said in a video interview with Channel 8-TV.

According to the Channel 8 report, the hospital “need(s) more residential houses, like 27 Bellevue, as administrative space.” Last year, the hospital made a purchase offer on the bed and breakfast and 1.81-acre property at 428 Mount Vernon and remains interested in it, according to Mike Zanghi, director of Facilities, Highland Hospital.

Currently, 27 Bellevue is zoned for residential use and remains vacant. The hospital has announced no definitive plans for the space, but hospital officials have mentioned renting it and keeping it vacant as options.

According to its 2013 annual report, Highland Hospital will spend $1 million this year “toward site analysis and planning studies as the first steps in our Master Facility Plan.” The report cites a need to modernize operation rooms, patient rooms, an observation unit, storage and support space, the cafeteria and several other resources. In addition, the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s reported in a credit upgrade on Oct. 8. 2012, that Highland “management is considering construction of an additional patient tower starting in 2015 at the earliest, for a total cost of up to $35 million.”

A group of residents met with hospital officials March 6 to express concerns about the hospital’s acquisition of neighborhood residential property. Hospital officials turned down the group’s requests to sell 27 Bellevue and to agree not to acquire any more residential property in the neighborhood, but agreed to continue meeting. To that end, several executives from the hospital and its owner, the University of Rochester, are seeking to include Highland Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA) representatives in a planning committee.

“I love this neighborhood,” said Mike Thompson, a Rockingham Street resident who heads a committee of the HPNA focused on hospital-neighbor relations and who organized the March 6 meeting. “I’m very concerned about the impact increased hospital operations and footprint would have on quality of life, property values, the tax base (Highland Hospital is tax exempt) and an already overstressed infrastructure. We are also concerned with deterioration of the area adjacent to historic Highland Park.”

That includes one-block-long Bellevue Drive, site of some of the area’s most architecturally significant single-family homes—and where the hospital now owns a vacant house. Several of the street’s 15 homes were asked to be part of this year’s Landmark Society city house tour.

In addition, to ongoing meetings with the hospital, Thompson’s group is developing a “Defend Urban Neighborhoods / Stop Hospital Sprawl” campaign to build support in opposition to the hospital’s footprint expansion plan. The campaign has a website, http://www.defendurbanneighborhoods.org, which includes an online petition calling for government, hospital and University of Rochester officials to honor current zoning codes.