Residents oppose possible hospital expansion in tense Flower Hill meeting

Residents oppose possible hospital expansion in tense Flower Hill meeting
A Flower Hill resident expresses her concerns to the board of trustees regarding St. Francis Hospital's potential encroachment into the neighborhoods at a March 6 meeting. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

The Flower Hill Board of Trustees meeting Monday night became heated after a large group of residents expressed concerns about St. Francis Hospital potentially expanding into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Mayor Randall Rosenbaum told attendees that he has been in communication with the hospital’s leadership, who has informed him that the hospital is operating beyond its capacity and is interested in expanding, but that no plans had been presented to the village.

An anonymous letter that alleged the hospital had purchased a number of properties in the surrounding neighborhoods as part of its expansion plan circulated throughout the area, posted on neighbors’ doors and social media.

About 25 residents attended the meeting, many of whom were present for this issue.

Before public comment ensued, Rosenbaum read a statement to address the residents’ concerns about the hospital.

“Preserving and protecting the community is the top priority of the board and I,” Rosenbaum said. “Our decision-making has and always will be driven by what the residents of the Village of Flower Hill want. We will conduct things in an open and transparent way.”

He added that he is personally opposed to changing any residentially zoned properties to commercial, hospital or industrial use.

“I like the community the way it is right now and I personally would not want to live next to an outwardly expanded hospital footprint and my vision of the Village of Flower Hill is to maintain its residential nature,” Rosenbaum said.

During an argumentative public comment period that exceeded an hour, multiple residents addressed the board with their concerns about the potential of the hospital expansion, repeatedly opposing any form of it. Multiple times attendees were asked to wait until their turn to speak, and many who did speak did so in a pointed manner.

While the board was not able to identify the properties that had been bought by the hospital, they did affirm that multiple tracts had been acquired, including in the surrounding neighborhood. They were not able to provide the number of properties acquired by the hospital or where they are located.

While the hospital is able to buy properties freely, the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital are zoned for residential use, thus barring the hospital from using any property in those areas for hospital purposes.

“If that’s how a hospital wants to tithe their capital, that’s their right since there are no laws that I know of in this country against the freedom to purchase land,” Rosenbaum said. “This does not mean by right that the hospital can build whatever they’d like, change the zoning of these properties, combine the lots together, etc. That is something the hospital would need to present to the Flower Hill community through numerous public hearings that are in compliance with all applicable laws and get the buy-in of our residents.”

In lieu of more properties being purchased by the hospital, which would remove them from the tax roll due to the hospital’s tax-exempt status, Rosenbaum said the village has asked the hospital to increase their pilot payments to the village.

The hospital has engaged in voluntary pilot payments with the village for multiple years. The mayor has asked for these payments indefinitely, but there is no legal contract requiring the payments since they are voluntary.

Trustee Brian Herrington said the anonymous letter circulating used “trigger words” such as “greenlight” that imply the village board is in a conspiracy and engaging in corrupt actions. He staunchly denied this.

“I understand there’s nervousness, there’s frustration,” Herrington said. “If we could do something else, if you have ideas, let us know, but all this is doing is trying to create consternation in the community. I don’t like it. We’re here, we’re with you.”

Rosenbaum also denied any conspiracy alleged in the letter involving the board and the hospital.

“Insinuating such conduct is disingenuous and harmful to our community,” Rosenbaum said. “It is also unfair to our board members that volunteer countless hours to serve the community and do such good work.”

After a long and acrimonious session of public comment, the mayor suggested a petition be started by the community to express their dismay with the hospital potentially expanding in size. Many attendees responded positively.

The mayor and board also presented a resolution to issue a request for proposal for a land use planning study, which would aid the village in being proactive rather than reactive in long-term planning for large properties and their use in the village.

“There are several parcels, many of them currently zoned residential, where if additional developments were to occur, it could result in unwarranted impacts if not properly considered,” Rosenbaum said.

He said many large properties in the village fall within this category, such as the Vincent Smith School, North Hempstead Country Club and, most important to the residents in attendance at the meeting, St. Francis Hospital.

The vote was unanimously to implement this resolution. Rosenbaum estimated the study would take about four to six months before completion.

The board will convene next April 3 for a budget hearing. They will be presenting the budget to the public and receiving public comment at this time.

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