Slightly lost in the chaos at last night's Planning Board vote on the Valley Hospital expansion is the actual rationale of the six board members who approved an amendment to the master plan.
Chairman David Nicholson, Mayor David Pfund, Councilman-elect Tom Riche, and board members Nancy Bigos, Charles Nalbantian and Anne Ward voted to amend the village's plan to allow Valley to grow 200 percent on its 15.4-acre facility. Member Morgan Hurley was the only no vote.
Before voting, each member explained—in long or short—their individual decision, with many echoing similar sentiments. Although the hearing was checkered with outbursts from inside and outside the sweltering George Washington Middle School auditorium, the resident members continued their public deliberation, concluding with a 6-1 yes vote.
Giving the most-detailed remarks, Nalbantian first outlined four major areas of concern that other members drew on throughout the night: an environmental impact study, intensity of use, setbacks, and traffic.
"Without being frightened by the potential what ifs, I believe the amendment is important," Nalbantian said.
Crediting revisions suggested by contracted experts, Nalbantian said the final master plan amendment was greatly improved. Specifically, he favored the increased setbacks along Linwood, Van Dien and Steilen Avenues.
Additionally, he called for a "robust and essential" environmental impact study but it should be undertaken during site plan approval. More than 800 residents petitioned the board and school district for a study prior to vote as the hospital borders Benjamin Franklin Middle School and is in close proximity to Travell Elementary. However, the board said the study could only be undertaken during later stages, as plans were not finalized.
Ward's decision was based on "protecting public health and safety and promoting the general welfare." In voting for the addition, Ward said testimony from Valley doctors and nurses—early in the three-year process—was "thoughtful and insightful...
"It's a difficult decision to make after hearing all the fear and anxiety residents have... But we can't engage in speculation and must listen to evidence and facts," she said.
A 22-year resident and deputy director of Parks and Recreation, Bigos was appointed to the board earlier this year as a replacement for retiring fire chief James Bombace. Bigos (who was certified by secretary Barbara Carlton for reviewing all testimony), said she studied the plans as "a resident, professional and mother."
Explaining her yes vote, Bigos said she's witnessed many school and village expansions that were permitted for the children. "We need to represent the needs of the entire community... I want what's best for all residents," she said.
Presiding over the matter since its introduction in 2006, Nicholson was intimately tied to the proceedings.
"I think the village is a lot more than just our residents. It's our schools, businesses and our hospital," the chairman said.
Like several of his colleagues, Nicholson encouraged Village Council to impose a payment program for village services not currently paid for by the hospital. Nicholson approved the expansion saying, "They provide a vital service, and I'd like to keep it in our village."
In a brief statement, Riche credited the board's professionals and contracted experts for their work. In voting for the measure the future councilman assured residents that the matter was far from over.
"There will be future opportunities for public input," Riche said.
Pfund, with eight days left in office, approved what he called a "divisive issue."
"There's not a lot I can say here to make anyone changes their minds... but great work has been done to get this where it is," he said highlighting that site plan approval and a developer's agreement will require further village scrutiny.
In one of his last statements as mayor Pfund said he hoped the village could return together as a community.
Now a part of the master plan, the hospital plan will be decided on by Village Council—namely, how it will decide to rewrite zoning ordinances. Before the hospital can start construction, the plans mentioned by Pfund must be approved.