WINCHESTER — Following a marathon meeting, the city Planning Commission endorsed a proposal to convert the former Winchester Memorial Hospital property into an independent and assisted-living complex for seniors.
“This fits really, really well with the community,” commission member Lacey Burnett said near the end of Tuesday’s 4 hour and 15 minute meeting. “It adds diversity.”
Most of the people in the capacity crowd at Rouss City Hall disagreed. More than 30 city residents — the vast majority of whom live in close proximity to the 333 W. Cork St. site — spent an hour and 20 minutes sharing their opinions about the project with the Planning Commission. All but four of them said the senior-living center would be a bad fit for the residential neighborhood.
“This proposal is for a large commercial site that in no way conforms to this historic neighborhood,” speaker Jackie Morgan said.
Healthcare Development Partners (HDP) of Chicago, which purchased the 3.7-acre campus for $7 million in 2014, wants to renovate and expand the former hospital into a senior housing complex with as many as 165 one- and two-bedroom apartments.
HDP plans to renovate the top three floors of the property’s existing seven-story brick tower to accommodate assisted- and independent-living apartments, while lower floors would remain as is to accommodate health-care and rehabilitation services already offered at that location by Valley Health, parent company of Winchester Medical Center.
A major addition is proposed for the east side of the tower, where a portion of the old hospital was previously removed to make way for redevelopment. A tiered design with sections ranging from two to six stories would include apartments, a gym, a spa, a beauty salon, and a new swimming pool.
While the senior-living complex can be built by-right in the site’s existing Health Services District zoning, HDP is seeking a conditional-use permit (CUP) to allow for waivers from the district’s height, size, setback and landscaping regulations.
HDP President Todd Bryant said he has been working with local residents to address their concerns about the project.
“We’ve spent a lot of time meeting with neighbors [and held] two community meetings,” Bryant said on Tuesday.
Many of the residents remain steadfast opponents. Three of the people who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing referred to Bryant’s proposed structure as a “monstrosity.”
“It’s just too big for the spot they’re trying to put it,” said Jim Spangler. “It doesn’t fit.”
A common suggestion shared by neighbors was to scale back the size of building to reduce its impact on traffic, parking and density while providing more room for landscaping.
“Once you get the building, no matter what it is, it’s going to be there 50 years,” said resident and former Planning Commission chairman Nate Adams.
Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans noted that Winchester Memorial Hospital was larger than the proposed senior-living center. In 1990, the year the hospital moved to the new Winchester Medical Center on Amherst Street, the Cork Street building was 352,730 square feet. The residential complex would be 344,630 square feet, with more than half of that space including the existing structures at the site.
“We went through a ton of iterations to get where we are today,” Bryant said. “We’re here to stay and make sure the community and neighborhood are well-served.”
Commission Vice Chairwoman Kelly Wolfe made no effort to conceal her opposition to the project
“The bulk of this building is too much,” Wolfe said. “I’ll bet you a million dollars that something better comes along because it’s a good lot. ... We will have better options if we just wait.”
Commissioner Katt Eaton said the site has been available for redevelopment since 1991 but was overlooked until HDP came along 23 years later.
“I think this adds value to our community,” Eaton said.
Commission Chairman Mark Loring steered the panel’s discussion to the specific zoning waivers requested in the CUP application and reminded members to not get swept up into an emotional debate.
“We’re reacting to a current property owner and what he has the right to do with his property,” Loring said.
The commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the CUP, with Wolfe opposing the measure.
With the vote came a series of conditions, such as keeping the width of the building’s front facade on South Stewart Street equal with the width of the existing brick tower, and requiring that at least 25 percent of the property be green space.
In order to meet the green space requirement, the commission is recommending that rooftop gardens count toward the 25 percent landscaping threshold. That would include a large garden on a flat roof at the rear of the structure that HDP officials said could be used for community functions.
“I commend the developers for their willingness to work with the neighbors,” Commissioner Brandon Pifer said. “This is a good use for the property.”
The proposal will now be considered by City Council, which could make a final decision on the senior-living center as early as next month.
“It doesn’t end today,” Loring said.
Attending Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairwoman Kelly Wolfe and members Katt Eaton, Brandon Pifer and Lacey Burnett. Commissioner John Tagnesi was absent.