On July 14, 2014, at an NBN (Neighbors Building Neighborhoods) Sector 6 meeting, Highland Hospital representatives announced that the hospital would sell 27 Bellevue Drive, and that the hospital is no longer interested in pursuing neighborhood residential property at this time. The hospital presented its early-stage plans for new construction on the current hospital campus. You can read more about that here.
New FAQs explaining what we know about Highland Hospital's constructions plans are coming soon. The following FAQs remain as an archive of the issue.
Q1. What is Defend Urban Neighborhoods?
We are Rochester, New York city residents who believe urban neighborhoods thrive when residents, visitors, businesses, institutions and parks share space wisely. We are not anti-growth; rather, we urge government, businesses and institutions to consider the value of balance and scale to keep neighborhoods vital. Growth should be efficient, appropriate and intelligent – in other words, the opposite of sprawl. We urge all parties to practice thoughtful development and economic growth.
Q2. What is known about Highland Hospital’s expansion plans?
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, according to a 2012 Standard & Poor’s credit upgrade report, 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.”
Over several meetings of neighbors with representatives of Highland Hospital, the hospital reported its intention to grow from a “community” hospital to a “regional” hospital, providing specialty services to a broader population. They have also been clear that the hospital intends to grow in place, and that it is interested in purchasing residential properties in the neighborhood to facilitate that growth.
On May 4, 2014, Highland Hospital issued the following statement to WROC News Channel 8:
Q3. How big does Highland Hospital wish to be?
To our knowledge, the hospital has not made its growth targets public.
Q4. Has the hospital purchased any additional property outside of its current campus?
Yes. Highland Hospital recently purchased 27 Bellevue Drive, a single-family home. It is now vacant. In early 2013, Highland Hospital placed a purchase offer on 428 Mount Vernon, a historic home on nearly 2 acres of land contiguous to Highland Park, currently being operated as a bed and breakfast. The offer expired, but hospital representatives recently said they remain interested in the property.
Q5. What can the hospital do with properties they purchase in the neighborhood? Will the hospital require zoning variances to carry out its plans?
Hospital representatives have stated at different times that its property at 27 Bellevue Drive might be used as a rental property, for storage or office space — or that it may remain vacant. The hospital also indicated that it was interested in acquiring 428 Mount Vernon to convert it to offices. Zoning variances are required to use these spaces for offices as well as for storage.
We would vigorously oppose those variances.
Q6. The hospital says it will not change the "residential character" of the homes it proposes to buy for office space, and that the offices will be open only during normal business hours. That doesn’t seem disruptive. Why do you object to that?
This is not a boutique advertising agency or law firm setting up shop in an historic home that reflects its brand character. This is a major health care institution that is run by the largest employer in our region, the University of Rochester. They will view this from a business perspective. It is not hard to imagine that they will eventually ask the question, does it make sense to operate a handful of dated, hundred-year-old homes (think kitchens, bathrooms with tubs, small upstairs bedrooms) as offices when we can tear them down and construct purpose-built facilities with all the latest technology and amenities? That makes perfect sense for them, and once they own the property, it's a lot easier to do what they want with it.
Places of business must comply to federal, state and local regulations that do not apply to homes. Would the kinds of changes necessary to come into compliance alter the character of the homes? What about changes to make the homes function as offices, i.e. the necessity of moving large equipment in and out?
And where will these employees park their cars? You can tell them to park in the garage on South Avenue, but who is going to enforce that policy? What happens in the winter when employees don't want to walk very far on icy sidewalks? What about all the addition traffic from office visitors and deliveries? Our side streets were not built for commercial traffic.
Should the hospital eventually decide to sell the homes-converted-to-offices, would they ever revert to homes again? Or is the residential nature of the neighborhood permanently altered?
Maintaining the residential character of a neighborhood takes more than retaining the local architecture. Neighborhoods are created and maintained by people. People living in those buildings. People walking their dogs down the sidewalk. People planting flowers in their front yards for all to enjoy. People talking to their neighbors while sitting on their front porches. Your neighbors are there at night, and that creates a level of security for everyone.
You can also look at the institutional track record: the negative impact Strong Hospital has had on the Upper Mount Hope neighborhood; that the U of R had on McLean Street and Wilson Boulevard; that Highland has had with its "beautification" project at South and Rockingham. We're dealing here with institutions that have a history of damaging neighborhoods while pursuing a humanitarian mission that should be, but apparently isn't, accompanied by sensitivity to neighbors and urban landscapes.
Finally, you can look at their record for keeping their word. In 1995 the hospital owned 27 Bellevue, the same house it bought in January of 2014. At that time they sold it in exchange for easements to build a parking garage on its campus, and they stated publicity at a City Planning Commission meeting that the hospital had no plans to expand onto Bellevue or into other portions of the neighborhood. So history tells us there's a time limit on their promises.
Q7. How will a larger hospital impact Highland Park, School #12, and the South Avenue business district? What about the homes surrounding the hospital campus?
We fear the impact could be detrimental to the character and safety of our neighborhood. You can find a more detailed delineation of our concerns here.
Q8. You say this expansion is potentially damaging to Highland Park. Central Park in Manhattan is a great Olmsted-designed park too, and it is able to accommodate tall buildings on its borders. Why is this different?
Part of the beauty of Olmsted’s Highland Park design is that in many parts of the park, such as the Pinetum, the cityscape is hidden from view, so you feel like you’re in a vast forest, even though residences are just a few hundred yards away. If the hospital buys 428 Mount Vernon as it wants to, and if it eventually clears its two-acre lot of trees, that illusion will be vastly diminished in the Pinetum area.
Further, Bellevue, Mount Vernon, Alpine and South Avenue form a one-block buffer between the hospital and the park today. As that gets chipped away, the institutional activity of the hospital gets closer to the park, again interfering with its pastoral nature.
Central Park and New York City are, obviously, at a different scale. But the city pays close attention to development bordering the park. Many, if not most, of the buildings are themselves magnificent. The city is very protective of what they know to be a community treasure.
Keep in mind that the part of the park we’re talking about is the part that Olmsted designed, not the land to the south that was added later. So we’re talking about potentially diminishing the impact of Olmsted’s design for the city’s crown jewel park. Is that what we, as a community, want to do?
Q9. We understand neighbors have complained to the hospital about traffic and parking issues, hospital staff smoking near homes, medical waste and failed beautification projects. Can you comment on that?
Yes, many in the hospital’s immediate neighborhood have expressed concerns about those issues, and we continue to work with the hospital on them. However, buying residential property is an issue that affects the neighborhood and community more broadly, and we’re finding great unanimity on the issue, not only in the neighborhood, but among many city dwellers and lovers of Highland Park throughout the county, as well.
Q10. What is Defend Urban Neighborhoods proposing?
We are asking that the hospital, as well as our elected and appointed officials, consider the health and vitality of our neighborhood as a whole by respecting existing zoning rules. Residential properties need to remain residential.
Q11. The hospital says it has been making every effort to keep neighborhood representatives in the loop on its planning process and has even disclosed elements of its plan to you that aren’t yet public. So aren’t they being a good neighbor?
We truly appreciate that they hospital has reached out to us and has given us an advanced heads-up on what they are planning. And we definitely want to keep that communications channel open.
But we object to their plan. We draw the line at the hospital acquiring residential property to convert for institutional use. We have a vital, desirable neighborhood, and we intend to keep it that way.
Q12. What can I do if I have concerns about Highland Hospital expansion?
Please refer to our ACTION page.
Q13. Don't we need more and better health care options like those an expanded Highland Hospital would give us?
We treasure Highland Hospital’s healthcare, and we support its efforts at continuous improvement. We don’t support their plans to buy property in the neighborhood. Rochester has acres of desirable space that is properly zoned to accommodate health facility expansion. Why chip away at one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods and threaten the city’s crown jewel park, when there are so many other suitable options?
Q14. Why can’t the hospital build elsewhere, in another Rochester location?
When asked this question at a meeting with neighbors, hospital officials indicated that while they have moved many services offsite, the expansion they had in mind was best suited to the current campus. However, since the hospital hasn’t yet revealed what it plans to build, we can’t judge how critical it will be to locate on the current campus.
Certainly there is no shortage of vacant, appropriately zoned space in the city of Rochester for accommodating the hospital’s expansion.
A potential irony is that one of Highland Hospital’s greatest competitive advantages is its smaller size and its location in a desirable neighborhood. People like coming to it. Overexpansion could undermine that very advantage.