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Frederick hospital says parking garage expansion is vital

Tuesday - 1/17/2012, 11:34am  ET

Frederick hospital protest (Frederick News Post)
A crowd of protesters who oppose plans to route traffic onto neighborhood streets from a Frederick Memorial Hospital parking ramp slated for expansion forms a human stop sign Sunday morning on Park Avenue in Frederick. (Frederick News-Post/Travis Pratt)

One more official public hearing is scheduled regarding Frederick Memorial Healthcare's plan to open an entrance from the hospital's parking garage onto Park Avenue.

More than 100 people formed a human stop sign on Park Avenue near the proposed entrance Sunday to air their opposition to the proposal.

The Frederick Planning Commission is to decide whether to follow city staff's recommendation to approve the hospital plan. City planners recommend approval, with a condition to limit traffic.

Concern about safety compels the hospital, which is off Seventh Street, to provide the garage with access to more than one street, officials said. Neighbors say concern about safety compels them to object.

The number of cars using Elm Street between Fifth Street and Park Avenue is estimated at 59 in the morning and 92 in the evening, according to a traffic study commissioned by the hospital.

That study -- which the city did not require but is acknowledging -- estimated the number of vehicles using the street would increase to 245 in the morning peak hours, and 195 in the evening. The estimates are within the allowed number of vehicles for the local road, planners reported.

In response to neighbors' concerns, the hospital offered to restrict use of the new entrance to 250 people with access cards. City planners recommend the hospital note that as a condition of approval.

The hospital will and must abide by the condition, Harry Grandinett, hospital director of marketing and communications, said in an email.

"Any changes to that number of parkers will require the hospital to return to the planning commission to request permission," Grandinett said. "The hospital cannot unilaterally make the determination to open the west entrance to additional parkers."

"(A)lthough this will be difficult to monitor and enforce, violation of this (condition) would constitute a violation of the site plan and be enforceable," the staff report stated.

The amount of traffic predicted from the 250 cardholders would fall within the acceptable range set out by the city's land-management code, but neighbors say they do not want that many cars coming through.

Rhonda McLaughlin lives on Elm Street and helped organize Sunday's stop sign.

"We believe FMH has bigger plans for this entrance in the future and that allowing this limited access now could escalate quickly to several thousand cars into our ... streets every day without any way to enforce it," she said in email.

McLaughlin and others want the hospital to keep the garage access points on Seventh Street.

The expanded garage, which will have 1,290 parking spaces, should have at least two street access points, hospital officials said. The hospital's garage will be twice as big as some of the city parking garages, all of which have access to more than one street, hospital officials noted.

The garage expansion adds 420 spaces. The hospital, which Grandinett said must serve all 233,000 people in Frederick County, would like to start construction in May.

"Until we as a neighborhood and community understand the hospital's full comprehensive plan and have an opportunity to engage in that vision, we will not support any breach of the Park Avenue curb -- this is our line in the sand," Salyer McLaughlin said in email.

Hospital construction noise and use of loading docks on Park Avenue between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. have already annoyed neighbors, and they are wary of promises, David Collins said in email.

"We have been working with our neighbors, our vendors and our internal operations to address noise concerns as quickly as possible," Grandinett said.

Only recently did the hospital receive noise complaints, he said.

"We have contacted all of our vendors and redesigned internal operations to try to accommodate our neighbors' concerns about noise," he said. "A host of internal operations including dietary, environmental health services, the pharmacy, medical supplies, linens have been impacted by the delivery schedule changes."

"(T)here are emergency deliveries that we cannot -- and will not -- compromise," he said. "The delivery of blood supplies will not be delayed for the sake of noise abatement.

"We are a hospital and our patients have critical needs which oftentimes cannot be anticipated."