Expansion tamed

No longer dead set on stopping the expansion of Enloe Medical Center on The Esplanade, the hospital’s neighbors are regrouping for an audience with the City Council, which could require a series of mitigation measures and neighborhood improvements as conditions of approving the nonprofit’s $110 million project.

At a Feb. 8 Planning Commission meeting, continued from a hearing two days prior, several of the commissioners sympathized with the neighbors’ plight, offering up ideas on how the hospital could help compensate for its impact to the historic residential neighborhood. In the end, the vote came down 5-1 to recommend that the City Council certify the environment impact report for the project. The commission still has to, at its Feb. 16 meeting, consider amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance and General Plan, along with a development agreement. The council will take up the issue at its March 21 meeting.

Kristine Mazzei of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association (CANA) said the group wasn’t surprised by the commission’s vote, and CANA is now focusing its attention on the development agreement “to ensure that the project is implemented in such a way that minimizes its negative impacts on the neighborhood.”

CANA hopes the city will require Enloe to help counter traffic issues by improving unfinished streets in the neighborhood, providing a traffic-calming plan and surrounding the parking garage with liner buildings to buffer it from the neighborhood. The group, concerned about “sleep disturbances” identified in the EIR, also agrees with a city staff-suggested noise mitigation measure that would ask the FlightCare helicopter to base its operations at the Chico Municipal Airport to cut back on non-emergency flights made for refueling purposes.

Commissioners discussed all of those issues, and more, at length, and bemoaned the last-minute delivery of new information, including an air quality study secured by an Enloe employees’ union.

Commissioner Dave Kelley wanted to see a redesign of the parking garage, several commissioners suggested preferential parking for neighborhood residents during construction, and others recommended the addition of an employee child care center. The commission also wants to see Enloe pay to provide curbs, gutters and sidewalks along parts of West Seventh, West Fifth and Arcadian avenues.

The discussion, however, was largely overshadowed by a comment by commissioner Jon Luvaas, who wondered aloud how to balance the medical needs of the community with those of the neighborhood, and made reference to the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” it could cost to treat 82-year-old patients who “are going to live for a year and a half anyway.”

Later, as Councilmember Larry Wahl called for his resignation for being “insensitive” to seniors and others, Luvaas said he was taken out of context. [See “Letters to the editor, page 7.]

CANA’s Mazzei called Luvaas’ comments “unfortunate” and pointed out that CANA has never suggested transferring patients from helicopter to an off-site ambulance to cut back on noise.

Luvaas, who wanted to see Enloe FlightCare base helicopter operations at the old Community Hospital on Cohasset to reduce neighborhood noise and also wanted more time to review documents, cast the sole “no” vote as commissioners moved to certify the EIR.