The entire community—or at least the affected area—seems to have an opinion on the proposed Valley Hospital expansion, even the two Reynolds brothers.
Speaking before the Planning Board on its final hearing on an measure to amend the Master Plan and allow a 200 percent expansion to the hospital, Tyler, 14, and Cooper, 7, spoke against the proposal.
"The quality of life in the village will be shattered," said the elder Reynolds, himself a Benjamin Franklin Middle School student—a structure that borders the expansion project, which, if approved, would increase Valley's used square footage from 530,000 square feet to about 1 million square feet. "Why would you want to change a place that saves lives into one that destroys them?"
Emphasizing the environmental impacts yet to be studied by the Planning Board and the hospital, Tyler put on a gas mask to illustrate the future wardrobe of the student body.
"Seven years of construction? I'm only 9. That's practically my whole life,"Cooper said. "I'm only 7, and I know this isn't right."
The brothers echoed sentiments of many subsequent speakers and other resident who recently petitioned the Planning Board and Board of Education members to ensure construction next to a middle school is safe for students. The brothers are children of Lorraine Reynolds—a resident who helped gather petitions.
Board attorney Gail Price advised the board to make the petition—holding some 700 signatures—part of the official file, but not include it as a piece of evidence, saying the board couldn't verify the signatures. Concerned Residents of Ridgewood spokesman Paul Gould said he understood the legal technicality but noted the BOE and Planning Board knew the petitioners' sentiments.
Valley spokeswoman Megan Fraser spoke on construction, student safety and need for an environmental impact study.
"As a hospital, we have always been and continue to be committed to health, safety and security of our patients, their families, our neighbors, and the students next door," she said, and added that Valley is required to "conduct an environmental impact study as part of site plan approval."
The hospital originally approached the village with its "Renewal" project in 2006, and the Planning Board has drafted two Master Plan amendments that it hoped balanced the hospital's desires and resident's concerns. The current draft offsets the increased building mass by increasing setbacks along borders (Linwood—200 feet; Van Dien—100 and 120 feet; and Steilen Avenue—60, 120 and 130 feet) to combat height.
The board has scheduled nearly two meetings a week recently in an attempt to close discussions before it recesses at month's end. Resident Marla Scherman questioned the board for holding too many meetings so close together.
"We have scheduled several meetings outside of our normal schedule," Chairman David Nicholson said, adding last night's sessions was a late addition to accommodate middle school parents who attended a concert last week.
She said the board shouldn't rush the decision and possible should wait for the new Village Council to be seated in July. Nicholson said he hadn't considered that option as the board won't be intact then.
"It's our interest to have this board deliberate on this matter this month," he said.
Also questioned was calling a meeting following the death of board member and Councilwoman Anne Zusy.
At the meeting's start, the board held a moment of silence for late councilwoman, who died June 3. Nicholson called Zusy a "vibrant, intelligent and active member of the community."
Though visitation for Zusy was last night, Nicholson said the board made "the difficult decision" to hold the meeting as scheduled as resident speakers had arranged their schedules to attend. The meeting did start 30 minutes later—at 8 p.m.—than originally announced.
As the night wore on, cheers and applause got progressively louder and longer—with two standing ovations. Crowd interjects also became more frequent, with others wishing to speak at the end. The chairman denied their requests, saying there were "sufficient" opportunities for residents to speak.
"We made sure everyone had ample notice. We were clear and gave two weeks notice that the list was closing," Nicholson said.
Those that did speak brought up numerous issues, many frequently touched upon in public comment since it commenced in May.
Mark DeAngelis—given the power of attorney to speak for Eileen Seaman—requested each member to make sure "due diligence was given to provide for the protection" of the village's children.
"Each one of you will make your own decision... and each of you will have to answer why... I want you to know that I will hold you personally accountable for this decision," he said.
After resident Walter McDermott asked Valley's options if the board voted "no," Price said the hospital could appeal through the superior and appellate courts and possibly event to state supreme court.
Barbara Donatacci disagreed with the special treatment the board afforded Valley. "Is this was any other corporation—like Nabisco—this wouldn't have been considered," she said.
The board will reconvene Monday at Benjamin Franklin Middle School so experts can answer previously asked questions from residents. Additionally, it will receive its legal charge from board attorney Gail Price. Nicholson said the board could vote Monday or Tuesday—at its regular meeting in Village Hall.