Andes planners ignore advice from county

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 By Pauline Liu 
The Andes Planning Board went against the advice of Delaware County Commissioner of Public Works Wayne Reynolds, when its members voted 6-to-1 in favor of O’Connor Hospital’s $700,000 project to build a new primary-care health clinic on what the county considers to be a flood-prone section of Lower Main Street.

In a letter Reynolds sent to the board, he made this suggestion about the proposed 2,800- square foot, Greek Revival facility.

“We strongly believe that the hospital board should find a more suitable location,” he wrote. He urged that the facility be located “on higher ground.” The letter was never brought up at the meeting on May 14, when the planning board took its vote, but it is supposed to be among the public documents on file at town hall. Reynolds, who is away this week at a conference, could not be reached for comment.

Neighbors of the controversial project, who’ve just found out about Reynold’s letter, are enraged that it wasn’t made public during the meeting.

Feels ‘railroaded’
“I feel we were railroaded,” said JoAnn Boerner, who is the planning board clerk. “We didn’t have knowledge of this letter.” She’s an opponent of the project, which will be constructed right across the street from her home.

On the evening of the vote, Boerner was given the night off from her job with the planning board, so she could attend the meeting as a member of the community.

“We’ve had severe flooding on Lower Main Street before, but with the study that O’Connor Hospital did, we thought that the flood issues were resolved,” she said. 

The study, which O’Connor paid for, found that the project site is not in the floodplain. Nevertheless, concern over flooding is serious enough that the building’s finished floor is to be an elevated three feet above Lower Main Street. The design includes a foundation with 14 flood vents for water to flow through.

According to a number people who attended the meeting, tempers flared as neighbors raised their objections. Planning Board Chairman Frank Winkler cast the lone vote again the project, but when contacted by phone, he downplayed the controversy and did not wish to discuss his vote. “There was a little bit of controversy, but now that’s behind us and we’re moving forward,” he said. “We hope to have groundbreaking by July. We look forward to the facility serving the community.”

In casting their votes, a number of board members suggested that O’Connor make changes to the project plans to comply with the wishes of its neighbors.  Marcello Reale, whose home next door just north of the project, considered it all too little too late. “The board reluctantly approved the project with no assurances from the hospital that they would move the driveway or alter their plans in any way to accommodate the neighbors most affected by the project,” wrote Reale in an email.

“The board did not want to stand up to the hospital for fear of losing the project. While I understand the board wants the project they were unwilling to take the needs of the surrounding community into account and I fear have given the hospital carte blanche to do what they want without any regard for the adjacent neighbors.”

O’Connor, which is a part of the Bassett Healthcare Network, wants to break ground in July and turn the completed clinic over to Bassett by September. Dr. Susan Fiore, formerly of Margaretville Hospital, will be placed in charge of the facility.  At full capacity, Bassett hopes that 40-45 patients can be seen in a day. According to O’Connor Hospital’s Chief Operating Officer Edward McGrath, it’s still not clear if the project will meet its July target date. “We have to submit a Certificate of Need (CON) to the State Health Department,” he said. “After they receive it, they will have up to 90 days to make a decision.”

McGrath explained that within the next two weeks, O’Connor will try to complete the purchase of 1.7-acre site for the clinic, which is owned by Shayne Moshier of Andes. Delaware Bulldozing of Bloomville has been hired to do the excavation work. The clinic will be a white modular building. It is being purchased from G & I Homes of Oneonta. 

  According to McGrath, O’Connor has tried to address the concerns of neighbors. Through the clinic’s entrance will face Reale’s house, the architect has altered the plans, so that the stairs will lead from the sidewalk, providing him with a little more privacy. At the Reale’s request, O’Connor has also agreed to put a row of trees between his home and the clinic. 

McGarth explained that O’Connor also tried to address Boerner’s complaints. “Our other huge concern was that the driveway was put directly in front of our houses,” said Boerner. “There will be hours, when we will see the glare of headlights through our windows. We wanted there to still be some kind of privacy for us.” McGrath said that Boerner’s suggestion to move the driveway to the opposite side of building facing Ballantine Park couldn’t be done without a significant delay.

“There’s a wetland issue on the other side of the building,” he said. “The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers would have to get involved and that would delay the project. It would be at the federal level and that would be at their discretion.”  McGrath said the neighbors have legitimate concerns. “However, once the building is up, I think they will be very pleased,” he said.