Last winter, when the City of Lancaster and Grant Regional Health Center finalized a deal for the hospital to buy the former Lancaster Memorial Hospital complex, GRHC CEO Nicole Clapp stated that the hospital would be looking how to expand for the future.
Monday night, one possibility for that expansion was presented at the city council meeting, with Grant Regional looking to take over city property again, this time the block of Monroe Street that runs along the east side of the hospital.
“We need additional real estate,” Clapp told the council, stating that while the average critical care hospital - a designation Grant Regional has - sits on a 40-acre site, the facility in Lancaster sits on closer to four acres.
“To stay in our location, we need to close Monroe Street,” Clapp stated, noting that their initial ideas were to build a two-story addition where the street is currently which would be capped with a heliport so they would not have to vacate parking whenever MedFlight would visit the hospital.
Without the street closure, the hospital would need to find a new site somewhere else in the general area around the city. The hospital may also need some sort of waiver or revision of city ordinances that limits buildings to 25 feet in height.
Over the years, the hospital has purchased a number of homes and properties on the east side of Monroe Street, as well as owning the home just south on the west side of the block. Still, that leaves two homes on each end of the block not owned by Grant Regional.
Having mixed ownership for the section proposed to be closed makes the process of abandoning the street a little more complicated.
City Attorney David Helmke noted that if the hospital only wanted to close the section of Monroe Street where it owned both sides, the process could begin by the city initiating things, but with ownership of other parties, closing the street should begin with a petition signed by the landowners along the stretch of road.
Clapp rebutted Helmke’s opinion, stating that the code allows the city to still initiate, but that if there were any objections, the council would need a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority.
Clapp said that Grant Regional had initial discussions with those landowners, but had not specifically asked them what they thought about the street closure.
If there was to be a petition, any property that had multiple names on the deed would have to have those owners sign for it to count as the property endorsing the petition.
Helmke stated any street vacation first must go to the plan commission. Members of the council wanted to make sure affected landowners would be invited to the commission meeting so input could be given.
City Clerk-Treasurer David Kurihara noted that while not mandated, the city would make landowners on that Monroe Street section know about the meeting.
Council member David Varnam, whose wife works at Grant Regional, recused himself from the discussion and abstained from the vote.
Council pushes sidewalks
At the beginning of the meeting, the council heard about another street issue, this concerning whether or not to add sidewalks to sections of East Linden and North Adams streets. The city will be replacing a bridge that connects one residence and Lancaster High School to Linden Street, which had been temporarily closed because it had deteriorated.
The plan would replace the bridge with a box culvert, and have a sidewalk connect to a path at the school, and lead Linden Street to Adams Street, extending the sidewalk to connect with existing portions of sidewalk.
Laura Wackershauser, who would have sidewalks placed on her property on both Linden and Adams streets, was not in favor of the extensions. While she felt changes which reduced the space in the terrace section, from six to four feet, was an improvement, she felt sidewalk on the Adams Street section was unneeded, and suggested working on the sidewalk across the street.
“That would be a better use of your money,” Wackershauser said.
Craig Yager, who also lives on East Linden, felt the demand did not meet the need to build the sidewalks leading to the school. He said there are more rabbits crossing the section of street in the evening than children, and wondered if the city had attempted any sort of study to see how many students walk through the neighborhood.
“The culture of students has changed drastically,” Yager stated, believing most students are given rides to the middle and high school.
Returning to the subject later in the meeting, Public Works Director John Hauth noted that the design of the street project had been altered to reduce the impact the sidewalks would have. The terrace width had been reduced by two feet, and the width of the sidewalk was narrowed to four feet on Adams Street.
Yager asked if the city would be treating everyone on the stretch of new sidewalk to help clear the paths of snow in the winter. There is one property at the end of Linden which will actually not have any city sidewalk in front of their home, as the Lancaster Community School District, which actually owns that portion of the roadway, would not transfer any property without any sort of payment. That would mean the school district is responsible for clearing that sidewalk.
Council member Shane LaBudda said that when he first came to Lancaster, he was dismayed by the number of children being dropped off at school instead of walking, but that trends can change. “Sidewalks are one of the basic amenities cities provide,” he stated, adding he wanted to see the South Adams project move forward with sidewalks.
“I do have kids walk that street every day,” Alderperson Kate Reuter added, but stated that with how the majority of the council voted on South Adams (she had voted for extending the sidewalks), she feels like the city isn’t in a position to go against landowners after they had not earlier this year.
In the end, the council narrowly approved the sidewalks, 4-3, with Reuter voting against, being joined by Bob Schmidt and Leroy Ihm. Voting in favor were LaBudda, Varnam, Morgan, and Chad Olmstead.
In other city news, progress has begun on the municipal airport runway refurbishment, as Monday the airport was closed, and will be for several months. Also, the former Lancaster Veterinary Clinic building was being razed this week, part of the airport project.