Havre de Grace planning commission approves medical complex concept plan

The Havre de Grace Planning Commission recommended approval of the concept plan for the proposed Upper Chesapeake mixed-use hospital and medical office campus with little debate and few public complaints Monday night.

The 96-acre project would be built at Barker Lane and Bulle Rock Parkway, near the Route 155 interchange with I-95.

The first construction phase, set for 2016, would include the new 250,000-square-foot Upper Chesapeake hospital with an initial 108 beds, an 80,000-square-foot retail and office building and a 14,000-square-foot pharmacy.

Three more phases, set for 2019 through 2025, would add a total of 20 buildings, including a 110-room hotel.

About 10 members of the public attended the planning commission's meeting Monday at city hall.

The planning department has been reviewing a traffic study that has been prepared for the project and incorporates Bulle Rock Parkway and Route 155. A forest stand delineation has also been approved for the site, while a forest conservation plan is in development, city planners said.

Chairman calls plan 'incomplete'

Planning Commission Chairman Curtis Coon was alone in voting against the concept plan because he said the submitted proposal is incomplete.

Coon grilled Upper Chesapeake's representatives on their plans to flesh out details of the project, while the developers tried to reassure the commission they were not trying to leave anything out.

"I love this whole idea of a new hospital personally, but I have my duty here," Coon said, questioning the omission of items the city apparently requires in concept plans, such as amenities like street lighting, water features or pedestrian furniture in pedestrian areas.

"It makes more sense to me that you would reassure the public that any omission from the concept plan that for reasons of practicality is omitted from the concept plan be stated," he explained.

The other commission members did not seem to have any concerns. Member Robin Shane originally made a motion to require Upper Chesapeake to list the items they were omitting from the concept plan, but then she reconsidered.

"A concept plan, in our experience, most concept plans do not go to this level of detail," Paul Muddiman, of Morris Ritchie Associates, the project's engineer, said.

"We know we have to comply, we want to have those amenities in the project, we're just not on the level of design to put them on the concept plan," Muddiman said.

More detailed plan coming

More details on the plan will be discussed when Upper Chesapeake presents its actual site plan in late October or early November, Dean Kaster, Upper Chesapeake senior vice president for corporate strategy and business development, said after the meeting.

The concept plan includes a number of relatively minor changes since it was last seen by the public, city deputy planning director Jay Bautz said.

The biggest change is a significant reduction in parking for the five buildings to be built in the fourth and last phase of the project.

"There was way over, an abundance of parking being created for these office buildings," Bautz said, explaining that parking was reduced by 25 to 30 percent but still meets city requirements.

"It was a stormwater management issue," Bautz added.

Also, the planned day care center has been moved 90 degrees, gas pumps have been modified and moved to provide access for fueling, a pharmacy building was turned a few degrees and the hotel has additional parking to the south so there would be less shared parking, he said.

Muddiman said this project has more people working on it than any he has seen in 30 years.

"The hospital is actually being designed from the inside out," he said. "The hospital is the main focus of this project; everything falls in and around it. As we move through this process, and we have been working it daily for the past three months… details like grading… around parking will be pushed around slightly."

"In order to make utilities work, we'll be moving some things around," he explained. "The hospital, for instance, will not look like the footprint shown on this concept plan because there's so much design going on in the inside of the hospital, creating the shape of the hospital."

Dino LaFiandra, a lawyer representing Upper Chesapeake, noted the concept plan does show one water feature, a pedestrian path that loops around a large pond.

"There's absolutely no intention of omitting anything and we intend to do at least as better… as what the ordinance provides," LaFiandra said.

Buffer, lighting concerns

Two residents - Rodney Gaston and Lynn Jurkowski - spoke during the public hearing.

Jurkowski, a resident of nearby The Paddocks at Bulle Rock, asked why the developer went back to a 100-foot buffer after promising a larger buffer from adjoining properties.

"Why did they have that meeting, why did they do that dramatic presentation, if we're going back to where we were before?" she asked, about a community meeting Upper Chesapeake held during the summer to talk about the project with area residents and to solicit their opinions and concerns.

Gaston again raised the question of lighting and suggested the planning commission recommend that the developer address it now.

"With respect to the concept [plan], certainly someone has a concept as to the amount of reflected light… and glare," Gaston said. "There's industry standards for all of these issues."

Muddiman said those types of issues would be addressed at a later date.

He said the developer had many discussions and negotiated with homeowners.

"At this time we don't know exactly what types of lights we'll be using, exactly where they'll be, because we don't know exactly how the parking lot will be laid out or where the buildings will be," he said.

Upper Chesapeake, a nonprofit that owns and operates Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and the 100-year-old Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, plans to replace the latter, parts of whose physical plant dates to the 1960s, with the proposed new hospital near the I-95 interchange. Upper Chesapeake officials have not said what they plan to do with the existing Harford Memorial property, which is in the city's downtown.

Upper Chesapeake is part of the University of Maryland Medical System.

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