Andes clinic reviews are mixed; public input divided at hearing

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By Pauline Liu
Andes residents turned out Monday night in force at town hall to voice opinions about the primary care health clinic proposed for lower Main Street, next to Ballantine Park.

The public hearing conducted by the Andes Town Planning Board, drew a standing room only crowd. Several opponents and supporters spoke passionately.

 If approved, the facility would be built by O’Connor Hospital and staffed by Bassett Healthcare. Dr. Susan Fiore, formerly of Margaretville Hospital, will be in charge of the clinic.  She attended the hearing, but did not speak. She declined to comment to the News, citing Bassett policy concerning its physicians making statements.

O’Connor’s Facilities Manager Michael Howard explained that the 2,800-square-foot, modular, Greek Revival building would be constructed quickly. 

Aiming for July start
“We anticipate building in July and opening in September,” said Howard. “It’s only a couple of months.” He explained that the project has been under consideration for Andes “for a couple of years now.” 

The property, which is being purchased from Shayne Moshier, is not in the flood plain, but it was under two feet of water in the1996 flood. O’Connor has proposed a design to reduce the risk of flood damage. It involves raising the building by about three feet and creating flood vents in the foundation to allow water to flow through it. Despite the flood concerns, O’Connor is purchasing the property.

“We’ve actually been looking at Andes for a couple of years,” said Howard. “It’s the property that best fits our needs. It’s very well located.”

Marcello Reale and his mother, Kathe, who live just north of the proposed site, expressed concerns about the environmental impact to the land and water and complained that the process lacked transparency. They felt that residents should have been informed about the project much earlier.

Some residents called on O’Connor to make changes to the project that they can live with. Some neighbors object to the facility’s side entrance and driveway, because they face towards neighbors to the north and east. Resident Mary Davis suggested they be moved to the opposite side of the building, next to Ballantine Park.

“I don’t see why the driveway cannot go on the other side of the building,” said Davis. “It would reduce issues about flooding and lighting.”

Planning Board Secretary Joann Boemer, who lives across the street from the proposed site, supports the idea of moving the location of the driveway.

“If they move the driveway to the other side, we’d at least have some privacy,” said Boemer. “How can I have privacy with a 25-foot driveway across from my house?” 

She not only believes that the facility’s location could add to flood problems on Lower Main Street, she also feels that a modular, commercial building has no place in a historic residential district which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dairy farm owner Judy Morse stood up and read a statement in support of the clinic. Suzanne Gladstone also spoke enthusiastically about the plan.

“We’re very fortunate,” she said. “I’ve worked on the campus with Susan Fiore and she’s a fine physician. I hope the concerns can be worked out. We have an aging population and gas is expensive. We have a lot of older folks who can use a facility like this and have it close to home.”
According to Martha Sunkenberg of Bassett’s Health Center Operations, a number of vacant buildings in town were considered for the clinic.

“The problem with most historic buildings and New York Health Code is that they’re not compatible,” said Sunkenberg. “They did not have enough square frontage on the first floor. We have to have five-foot-wide hallways and handicap accessible bathrooms.” Sunkenberg explained that Bassett will have a long-term lease with O’Connor, which is part of the Bassett Healthcare Network.”
Sunkenberg also pointed out that the facility will have six full-time employees. O’Connor’s Facilities Manager Howard, explained that locals are getting work.

“I want you to know O’Connor does take pride,” he said. “We do try to maintain local contractors.” 
When pressed by Ron Guichard of Sotheby’s International Realty, Howard added that Delaware Bulldozing and Delta Engineering of Delhi as well as local landscapers have been hired.   
Planning Board Chairman Frank Winkler told the audience that the board has received several letters from residents who couldn’t make the meeting, but wanted to make their opinions known. He expects the board will consult experts about the project, including Delaware County Public Works Commissioner Wayne Reynolds, before making a decision next month.