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NY Methodist Hospital Reveals Expansion Plans, But Locals Want More Info

 NY Methodist gave the public a look at plans for a new building that could be eight stories high.
NY Methodist Hospital Reveals Expansion Plans, But Locals Want More Info
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PARK SLOPE — New York Methodist Hospital gave the public its first detailed look at its expansion plans on Thursday night, but locals walked away wanting more information than they got.

At a meeting in Methodist's Sixth Street auditorium, hospital officials unveiled plans for a U-shaped building to be called "the Center for Community Health" that will house 12 surgical suites and patient recovery rooms, an endoscopy suite with six special procedure rooms, a "comprehensive consolidated cancer center," an urgent care center, offices and a conference center.

The building is slated to span the entire western block of Eighth Avenue from Fifth to Sixth street, and take up half of Sixth Street. Construction would begin in 2014 or 2015 and take roughly three years.

Residents quizzed hospital representatives on how many new patients the new building will bring to the neighborhood, and how the massive structure will affect local traffic and parking, but got few detailed answers.

"It seems like you put a lot of thought and effort into these buildings," said frustrated Sixth Street resident Meredith Little. "I’m not getting the sense that you put a lot of time or effort into the community impact this is going to have."

She added, "People are asking you for direct numbers. How many more people are going to be coming into the community? How much parking are you going to allow? I’m not hearing answers."

Hospital spokeswoman Lyn Hill said Methodist needs to build the Center for Community Health to meet the rising demand for outpatient services, which have come to far outpace inpatient services in recent years. Last year Methodist had 40,000 inpatient "encounters, and 400,000 outpatient "encounters," Hill said, and that number is anticipated to grow steadily.

Until now outpatient services have been "sandwiched" in existing buildings or scattered throughout Methodist's campus, Hill said. "We're at a point now where we really need to consolidate our outpatient care and put it in one place," Hill said.

At least 15 existing buildings, including some brownstones and limestones that the hospital owns, will be demolished to make way for the new structure. Some of the Methodist-owned buildings have tenants. Residents in those buildings — the number wasn't specified — have been notified and "offered comparable housing," according to the presentation.

The new building, which could be as high as eight stories, will require zoning variances from the Board of Standards and Appeals, but it won't trigger the lengthy public review process known as Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The hospital was exempted from Park Slope's historic district, but agreed in 2009 to make its future development blend in with the neighborhood's vintage character.

Hospital representatives and consultants stressed repeatedly Thursday night that the design of the building hasn't happened yet, while at the same time promising that the new structure will fit in with Park Slope's brownstone-lined, tree-laden streets.

"Everything we do from a design standpoint is going to be about extending and enhancing the neighborhood," said a consultant with Washington Square Partners. "It's going to be a modern building...[but] it will be something that really feels harmonious."

Consultants kicked off the evening with a presentation on Park Slope's unique architectural character, noting that while the neighborhood is known for brownstones, the area is home to a wide variety of buildings of varying heights and looks. The consultants said they'd like to incorporate some of Park Slope's elements into the new building. For example, because the neighborhood is known as a tree-filled oasis, the new building will have two "green roofs" with grass or other plantings.

The new building will also have a "street" in the middle of the structure that cars will drive on to drop off or pick up patients. The covered one-way "street" will run from Sixth Street to Fifth Street. A consultant likened the "street" to the block-long stretches elsewhere in the neighborhood such as Fiske Place and Polhemus Place.

Some blasted the hospital for a lack of outreach to the community. Methodist held a private meeting for residents in the affected buildings last month, but neighbor Laurie Sandow said she and her Fifth Street neighbors were never informed about Thursday's meeting.

Hill said Thursday's meeting had been misidentified in local media as being a public meeting. "This is not a public meeting," she insisted. The meeting was, however, a joint meeting between the Park Slope Civic Council and Community Board 6 and advertised on the community board's website. All community board meetings are open to the public under state law.