The Port Jefferson Village Planning Boar gave the green light to the four-phased expansion of Mather Hospital on Thursday, June 9, moving the project into the final stage before authorization.
Under its four-phased proposal, the hospital intends to expand its northern parking lot, relocate and expand its emergency room, among several other improvements. The expansion of the parking lot would displace a wooded area currently used as walking trails.
Under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, local municipal planning boards are required to conduct an environmental assessment of proposed projects. After months of deliberations between the board, the hospital and the public, the board moved to designate the project as having minor impact and satisfying the necessary conditions for SEQRA approval.
“What we did as a board was try to, as much as we could, take into consideration the comments the residents brought to the Planning Board and incorporate them into the SEQRA document,” board member Gil Anderson said. “Based on the actual verbiage in the SEQRA law, it explains to what extent something’s a major impact or a minor impact. We gave the project a negative declaration, which means there’s no significant impact on the project to the community.”
Through negotiations with the hospital, Anderson said Mather will invest in several projects to give back to the community for any potential losses incurred during the expansion.
“They’ve made a number of efforts to improve conditions,” he said. “They’re going to be upgrading North Country Road, putting in a traffic signal and realigning the road a bit. They’ve made a commitment to improve the storm drainage from the flooding that occurred last year. They’ve also made a commitment to provide $25,000 in fees that will allow the village to plant natural vegetation in other areas.”
Ray DiBiase, chairman of the Planning Board, said, “There’s a substantial amount of tree planting — hundreds of trees that they’re planting on the site and $25,000 that they’re going to give to the village to decide where the trees should go.” He added, “That’s a pot of money the village can use to buy and install trees wherever it is that they want them.”
The Mather project has garnered significant public scrutiny throughout the approval process. DiBiase said he saw more public feedback on this than on any other project in his nearly two decades on the board.
“We had the most turnout of a public hearing — and it was virtual — and at least 50 comments to resolve,” he said. “I’ve been on the board for 16 years and it’s the most people I’ve ever seen at a public meeting.”
There will be one final meeting of the Planning Board during which the hospital will receive its site plan along with its conditions for approval. DiBiase said the site plan will likely have several comments and instructions that the hospital will be required to follow throughout the building process.
“The project is headed for approval because the environmental requirements are satisfied,” he said. “But we get to set conditions. There’s a whole series of standard conditions for any site plan, but on top of that, we need to talk about an additional payment in lieu of paying taxes — and there are other things, too.”
Despite the project moving forward through the board, some local residents still believe there is an opportunity to scale it down. Ana Hozyainova, village resident and candidate for trustee, said she and a group of concerned residents intend to challenge the board’s environmental determination in court.
“I am one of the people that has retained attorneys to challenge the decision, and we are preparing to file a formal suit to ensure that we can protect the forest from being cleared,” she said.