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Spectrum, EGR debate parking issue

Article: Grand Rapids Business Journal

April 13, 2018

Author: Justin Dawes

Blodgett Hospital wants to replace old ramp, but residents say initial plans compromise historical area’s character.

Efforts by Spectrum Health to begin a $30-million parking structure project at Blodgett Hospital are being challenged by East Grand Rapids residents.

Spectrum would like to build two parking ramps, one on the north end of the property and one on the south end, with the same number of total spaces as its crumbling 45-year-old underground structure. The hospital is at 1840 Wealthy St. SE.

But residents say the tall concrete structures, particularly the south one that would sit on Plymouth Avenue SE, would compromise the historical area’s character and devalue the neighborhood.

The opposition, which formed a nonprofit called OurEGR, has had six meetings with Spectrum officials so far.

The group would like to establish a “win-win-win” situation for the patients, the neighbors and the hospital, said Lynn Chadfield, a neighborhood resident leading the opposition who owns a private osteopathic manipulation practice in Forest Hills.

Spectrum has made a number of changes to its original Blodgett plan.

Among the change of plans, the proposed south structure would be reduced by one level, with the intention of making the north structure larger, and half of the levels would be moved underground, said Rick Redetzke, vice president of facilities and real estate at Spectrum.

The south structure plan started at 38 feet high and now would measure just over 20 feet high at the highest point, he said.

But that’s not enough, Chadfield said.

OurEGR hired an architect to design structures that would be underground, and two engineers endorsed the design.

“It was put underground for a reason to begin with, and that same reason still exists today: outsized parking ramps just don’t belong in a historic neighborhood,” Chadfield said.

Redetzke said some residents have made it clear that unless the new ramps are the same height as the current underground structure, they will not be satisfied.

“We want the hospital to thrive as it has,” Chadfield said. “We don’t want it to be something that encroaches upon the enjoyment of our properties the way a big wall right in front of our homes would.”

The East Grand Rapids Planning Commission tabled a vote at its March 20 meeting on Spectrum's plan, giving the company time to consider the design presented by OurEGR.

The next meeting was scheduled for April 10, but Spectrum requested it be postponed to give the hospital more time to consider all options, Redetzke said. The next meeting will be April 24.

“We’re trying to … make sure that the feedback we’re hearing is incorporated in the best possible way we can,” Redetzke said.

Blodgett has created an East Grand Rapids Neighbor Advisory Group — which has representation from residents who live on Plymouth Avenue, Sherman Street and Wealthy Street — to give ongoing feedback throughout the project.

“The discussion with the neighbors has been extremely valuable,” said Julie Wolowitz, Spectrum vice president of operations and head of Blodgett. “It has delayed the planning process, but I think we’re coming up with a much better plan as a result.”

Besides the old age of the current structure, Redetzke said Spectrum does not want to replace or continue repairing it because of its difficulty for patients to navigate.

OurEGR’s plan improves the wayfinding issue better than Spectrum’s, Chadfield said.

The original plan included moving the sidewalk closer to the curb to maximize the amount of green space in between that and the structure. That’s no longer in the plan because not as many large trees are needed to cover the shorter wall, Redetzke said.

Spectrum would like a large amount of green space around the structure to accommodate the neighbors’ requests, Wolowitz said.

But green space and trees won’t do well covering up a concrete wall more than 20 feet high, Chadfield said, especially if the plants do not get adequate sunlight.

“We don’t want to just hide something with landscaping,” Chadfield said. “We want something that complements our neighborhood or at least is not offensive to our neighborhood.”

Another concern of OurEGR is the increased ambulance siren noise at night. The group’s plans propose rerouting nightly traffic away from residences.

The planning commission will deny Spectrum’s plan, recommend it for approval by the city commission or recommend it for approval with conditions. Redetzke said he is optimistic the planning commission will recognize the “genuine changes” Spectrum has made to its plans.

“We are implementing a very long-term solution for Blodgett Hospital, so we’re trying to be extremely purposeful in receiving that feedback and adjusting our plans so everybody’s voice is heard,” Redetzke said.

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