The plans sat neatly in a row on easels as the group stared. Some squinted, others put reading glasses on, pointing and craning their necks to get a good look.
Many said they had lived near South Nassau Communities Hospital for years and have seen the changes: an additional parking lot, a new façade. This time, however, nearly two dozen Oceansiders came before the town Board of Zoning Appeals on June 6 to say they had had enough, and opposed the hospital’s raft of proposed expansion projects for which it was seeking height and parking variances from the board.
Through nearly three hours of testimony — with many impassioned pleas and some tears — the residents, most of whom live on nearby streets, voiced fears of encroachment by the hospital, plummeting property values and the loss of community character, as well as traffic.
“We’re asking you, the board, to preserve our neighborhood, to preserve the American dream,” said Charles Giordano, of Jackson Street. He expressed concern over South Nassau’s expanding footprint. The hospital plans to demolish seven houses on Washington Avenue to make room for a three-story parking garage and a storm-hardened utility plant. Giordano theorized that it was inevitable that more homes would be torn down for future projects, saying, “It’s only a matter of time.”
In addition to the utility plant, which would keep the hospital powered in the case of a natural disaster, and the garage — meant to alleviate parking congestion on neighboring streets — South Nassau officials plan to build a five-story expansion on the hospital’s southwest corner for additional critical- and emergency-care services.
William Garry of the Uniondale-based law firm Harris Beech, representing South Nassau, maintained that despite the planned construction, none of the additions to the hospital would increase the number of patients or staff members moving in and out of the area. “Rather,” he said, “those projects would upgrade and modernize the existing facility to achieve a variety of benefits.”
Speaking to the Herald, Joe Calderone, senior vice president of communications at South Nassau, echoed Gary’s remarks. “We’re a 455-bed hospital before all of this starts, and we’ll be a 455-bed hospital when it’s done,” he said.
Many complaints centered on what the plant and parking garage would do to neighboring property values. Stacey Esposito, who said she had purchased her Washington Avenue home 15 years ago, asked the board who would buy her home with a parking garage and power plant roughly 150 feet away. “What am I leaving my kids?” she asked with a strained voice. “A piece of property with three bedrooms and two baths. For what?”
John and Adrienne DeSantis, a couple who said they moved into their Washington Avenue home two years ago, expressed similar concerns. They said they were concerned about the loss of community feel in the area. “I’m losing two potential neighbors for a parking lot,” John said. “. . . It’s great to have a hospital in the neighborhood, but at what cost?”
Adrienne added to her husband’s comments, saying that as a project manager at Northwell Health, “If we agree to allow them to knock down houses now, we’ll have nothing left. We are destroying a sense of community.”
Calderone responded that the homes to be demolished were purchased at market value by the hospital over the years, and that in many cases the homeowners approached South Nassau when they were deciding to move.
Addressing concerns of property values, Barry Nelson, a real estate consultant brought before the board by South Nassau to provide expert opinion, said he believed planned landscaping between the garage and adjacent homes would be adequate to maintain community character. According to his research, he said, home values near the hospital appeared to be appreciating at the same rate as homes elsewhere in Oceanside.
“In my opinion,” Nelson concluded, “the parking garage is not going to have any deleterious effect to the residents, it’s not going to impact property values, and values will continue to appreciate.”
At least some complained of traffic caused by the hospital. Mount Avenue resident Edward Keller said he was concerned by the hospital’s proximity to School No. 5, on Oceanside Road, and what the expansion could mean for traffic on that street. “What’s going to happen when they hit a little kid?” he said of motorists.
Calderone countered that ambulance traffic will still enter via Nassau Parkway, and that although plans call for an emergency room drop-off point on Oceanside Road for those who choose to drive to the emergency room themselves, he said there would be valet service to alleviate traffic caused by potentially panicked drivers dropping off patients. Additionally, he said, South Nassau plans to add left-turn lanes at the intersection of Healthy Way and Merrick Road to better facilitate drivers coming in and out of the hospital, and that the medical center funds two safety officers who are on call when school lets out.
“We’ve had over 60 meetings with the community leading up to this hearing,” Calderone said. “We’ve done everything we can do to be attentive to the community. We know we’re in a residential area, and we’re doing everything we can to be respectful.”