By CASPAR EWIG
COOPERSTOWN – Bassett Hospital’s proposal to build housing for its employees on Averill Road, on property owned by the Templeton Foundation, was the subject of a public hearing before Cooperstown’s Board of Trustees on January 5. That hearing was in conjunction with the board voting on whether a special permit to allow the construction should be granted and, if granted, under what conditions or limitations.
The hearing had attracted interest and was well attended.
At the outset, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh set the ground rules for the hearing. After the Bassett representatives explained the project, each participant was allowed five minutes to comment.
“It’s totally your opportunity to speak and be heard, and that will take as long as we need. If you want to stay for two hours, we will stay for two hours,” Mayor Tillapaugh said.
Upon the conclusion of public comments, the Board would review Bassett’s presentation together with the public comments and analyze the proposal in light of issues raised in the New York State Environmental Quality Review applicable to the project.
Matt Hamlin, Bassett Hospital/Templeton Found-ation attorney, opened the discussion by pointing out that the underlying rationale for the project was the well documented shortage of health-care providers, and the need for Bassett to make housing available as an inducement. The site would contain two town houses of six units each and a two-story apartment house with 15 units per floor.
Joe Piraino of in-ARCHITECTS and Scott Freeman of Keplinger Freeman Associates LLC described the details of the project and how it would fit into the community. The location of the units was somewhat influenced by the topography of the site, but designers are able to provide a set-back of 150-200 feet and planned additional vegetation to make the units unobtrusive. At the same time, the sidewalks were designed to make the housing a part of the community.
It was pointed out that a new water tower would be constructed to service the site, which would replace the existing aged water tower and provide improved service to the rest of the Cooperstown community.
During the ensuing public hearing, concerns expressed fell into the categories of notional and practical. A number of speakers objected because the property intended to be developed was one of the few unspoiled areas still left within the village. A different location, such as behind the Clark Sports Center or the Meadows Office Complex, was suggested as more practical and less obtrusive.
As summed up by one member of the audience, “We want our hospital to thrive and be a quality hospital…but I totally agree that this is not the proper location.”
The developers responded that they had considered other locations, but that those alternatives were deemed unfavorable.
Some opponents raised issues as to how construction would affect the water runoff. Others pointed to the inadequacies of the roads leading to the development, and adjoining landowners feared the invasion of their property during the construction phase. The impact on the school system and the school bus routing schedule was also voiced as a concern.
A number of individuals voiced strong support due to the absence of adequate housing and the need to attract health-care workers. Supporters of the project felt any problems could be solved or ameliorated.
After reviewing the issues raised by SEQR, the trustees voted unanimously to issue the special permit, but upon a number of conditions.
To comply with the state’s environmental requirements, a geotechnical survey of the project’s effect on the water table is required, as well as a civil and traffic engineer’s report on the project’s impact on the existing road and electrical system. In addition, the trustees require a guarantee that all leases will exceed 30 days, that an arborist report on the adequacy of the buffer vegetation, and that the Cooperstown fire chief provide written approval of the location of fire hydrants and the adequacy of the road system to accommodate fire trucks. Finally, the SEQR requires a report to specifically address the traffic issues surrounding Averill, Beech and Main streets.
Following the granting of the special permit, the project will be presented to the Planning Board, at which time an additional public hearing will be scheduled.