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Havre de Grace council considers more requirements for new hospital development

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

4:52 PM EDT, July 18, 2012

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The Havre de Grace City Council introduced an amended ordinance Monday that toughens some of the development requirements for the new hospital planned at I-95 and Route 155.

The council, however, held off voting on the changes to mixed-office employment center zoning for the hospital site until after the public information session on the hospital scheduled next week by Upper Chesapeake Health.

The public information meeting is this Tuesday, July 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Havre de Grace Community Center, 100 Lagaret Lane.

Curtis Coon, the planning commission chairman, said the three highlights of the amended ordinance are: providing the planning commission with more oversight, in addition to the department of planning; allowing more case-by-case flexibility on required setbacks; and suggesting the site plan include elevation drawings that show architectural features.

The council added several amendments of its own, including: requiring that outdoor speakers not be audible past the mixed-office zone boundary, requiring Dumpsters to be compatible with the site and not be visible from adjacent streets or residential areas, requiring lighting systems that can shield light from adjacent properties, setting standards for minimal glare, requiring landscaping to incorporate a variety of vegetation to buffer the property from residential lots and reinstating language allowing the developer to provide 300 feet of office space to the city at no cost for tourism purposes.

More tourism offices?

The latter proposal drew some criticism, and both Councilman Joe Smith and Councilwoman Barbara Wagner voted against it.

Smith said he is not against tourism but questions the need for another tourism office, wondering whether the city would have to pay to refurbish the space and who would pay utilities and maintenance.

He said a visitors office in the proposed hotel by the hospital would make sense but also pointed out there are already two visitors centers in the form of the I-95 travel plazas within about 10 miles on either side of Havre de Grace.

Smith also asked if other alternatives to a visitors center have been considered, such as an enhanced social media campaign.

"I think there are other ways to reach more people that can be measured than perhaps a visitor center," he said.

Councilman Bill Martin said he appreciated those concerns and he also has concerns about a lot of empty stores in downtown Havre de Grace.

"I'd like to see if we could do more," Martin said, adding that the new facility would have more interactive screens and kiosks.

Council President Randy Craig also introduced an amendment allowing the planning commission more input during the concept plan review stage, in addition to the input of the city's planning department.

"This is a very large and important project," Craig said. "I think the concept plan is a big part of the what the citizens see and buy into later on and certainly don't see any harm in letting the planning commission review the plan later in the process."

Smith was alone in voting against that amendment, saying it makes sense in principle but he was concerned about making a change on the public body without further discussion and wanted to consider the "pros and cons down the road."

Lighting, noise concerns

Several residents from the Paddocks section of Bulle Rock again expressed their concerns regarding lighting and noise pollution from the proposed project, but also said they appreciate the council's attempt to address their concerns, especially with Craig's amendment.

Rodney Gaston, a resident of Monarchos Drive near the new hospital site, said he wants more specific language to curb bright lighting.

"When we bought our homes in the Paddocks, we were looking forward to the quiet enjoyment of our property in a nice city and town," Gaston told the city council. "Devoid from the ordinance was any such consideration [of lighting measurements or requirements], which is why when I spoke last time we were particularly concerned with the glare."

James Barry, also of Monarchos Drive, said he does not really believe the residents gained further ground on some of their concerns during a recent meeting with city officials.

"We've been asked to take on faith and trust that the process will lead us through," Barry said, explaining he does not believe anyone is trying to mislead, but there is nothing preventing the project's phases from moving forward in a different order, and building the hospital in the phase four area.

"I guess what we're concerned about is things can change," he said.

"I was hoping to get a little more definition and a little more strength in the ordinance," he said. "I think we failed to achieve some of that during the discussion that we had."

Dean Kaster, Upper Chesapeake's senior vice president for corporate strategy and business development, thanked all parties involved at the council meeting.

"We're very pleased with all the progress that has been made and we're looking forward to getting additional feedback from the community," Kaster said. "A project like this obviously has a long future in front of it and there is going to be a lot of opportunity for dialogue with neighbors and various parts of the city organization."

"We're very hopeful and very excited," he said of the new hospital, which will be built to replace the existing Harford Memorial Hospital in the city's downtown.

Fence update, other business

Other actions during Monday's Havre de Grace City Council meeting:

• Smith encouraged residents to call the planning department if they have any questions about the licensing or permitting process.

"There's been a lot of confusion and a lot of stress and a lot of anger around permit and license issues," he said, referring to the recent controversy over Joe Fiocchi's fence in the city right-of-way on Commerce Street. "I hope now that the infamous fence has been taken down that we're moving past that and on to more productive business."

Fiocchi removed last week the section of the fence that was the focal point of the controversy. A gate that remained has since been taken down as well.

• Planning and zoning director Neal Mills said the final total of building permits for the fiscal year is 87, compared to 65 for fiscal year 2011 and 169 for fiscal year 2010.

"It's a small sample that we're drawing from, but it looks like we went through a valley in 2011 and we're starting to make the climb back," Mills said.

• Public works director Larry Parks said work has begun on the Lewis Lane construction between Route 40 and the CSX tracks. Work is also continuing on Route 155 and the end of Bayview Drive will be changed to one-way only, Parks said.

• Herbert Truslow, of Bloomsbury Avenue, said another water main broke on his street Sunday.

"When it was called in, why wasn't anyone notified?" he said, making a reference to the major water main break in downtown Baltimore last week that flooded and buckled the street and will take three weeks to repair.

"Is the same thing going to happen like in Baltimore?" Truslow asked. "Bloomsbury has been getting water main breaks since I moved there. It's getting ridiculous."

Mayor Wayne Dougherty replied the main will be replaced and the problem has been identified. "Yesterday was an extreme emergency and there was a burst," he said.

• Dougherty read an e-mail circulated by Councilman David Glenn that he called "extremely important," a reflection on those serving in the armed forces that compares a soldier's experience with that of an average city.

• Smith said a recent editorial in The Record incorrectly referred to a proposed economic development position as a tourism position.

• Martin and Barbara Wagner congratulated those who helped organize last weekend's Pirate Fest and encampment at the Lock House Museum.

• George Wagner, of North Union Avenue, who is Councilwoman Barbara Wagner's husband, wondered about the study done two years ago about the parking problem downtown.

He read a petition suggesting revising the parking rules on the 400 block of Franklin Street specifically, saying residents and business owners lack parking spaces.

• Police Capt. Wayne Young said Aug. 7 will be National Night Out.

• The city council later went into closed session Monday to discuss property acquisition.