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Albany Med Expansion Gets Final OK

Published on 9/21/2010 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST Staff Writer

ALBANY -- City lawmakers gave the two final approvals to Albany Medical Center's $360 million expansion Monday night, adopting a compromise in which Myrtle Avenue will not be forced to close for duration of the massive construction project expected to last two-and-a-half years.

Now, the north side of Myrtle -- which residents call a vital east-west thoroughfare that links Pine Hills to downtown -- will remain open while Albany Med uses the south side to stage for construction of its new six-story patient tower.

In Park South and Pine Hills, the proposed closure has been among the most controversial aspects of the project, which Albany Med expects to begin in the first quarter of next year.

Councilwoman Leah Golby, whose 10th Ward includes parts of Pine Hills, lauded the compromise, as did Councilman Dominick Calsolaro.

"It's their neighborhood, and they need to be listened to first before the developers," Calsolaro said. "We can stand up. We can ask that things be changed. We don't always have to do what the developer tells us."

The earliest plans for the expansion contemplated a complete, permanent closure of Myrtle between Robin Street and New Scotland Avenue.

For the right to close the street, Albany Med will pay the city $225 a month, according to the license agreement unanimously backed by the council.

According to a second deal unanimously approved Monday by the council, the medical center will also have to pay the city $68,000 to build an elevated pedestrian bridge over New Scotland Avenue to connect its new parking garage with the new tower. Albany Med will pay an additional $150,000 for building a retaining wall along city right-of-way on Myrtle Avenue.

Albany Med had also previously agreed -- under pressure from council members threatening to try to hold up the approvals -- to pay $100,000 in five, yearly installments into a Park South Redevelopment Fund to boost the city's efforts to re-make the neighborhood immediately adjacent to the hospital.

The votes on Albany Med's expansion also came as the council unanimously endorsed a plan to pursue so-called traffic calming on nearby Madison Avenue by reducing it from four lanes to two, with a center turning lane.

Pine Hills neighborhood activist have pushed for the plan for years, arguing it will not only make the busy thoroughfare safer for bicyclists and pedestrians but also for drivers themselves.

City planners have said pursuing the plan will take a feasibility study that could cost as much as $100,000. How the city will pay for that remains unclear, though Albany Med -- during the discussions about neighborhood benefits of the expansion -- has said it would be willing to contribute a small part of that sum.

Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti, whose 6th Ward includes one of Madison's most chaotic intersections at the confluence of Madison and Lark Street and Delaware Avenue, said the council's blessing of the project "elevates the issue" to a level that will be more difficult for the city to disregard.
"It's not just an issue being raised by a collection of neighborhood groups," Conti said.

In other business, the council also extended the city's dog leash ordinance to apply to Hoffman Park off Frisbie Avenue. On Saturday, the College of Saint Rose is going to unveil $6 million worth of improvements to the ball fields in the city park, which is also home to the college's sports teams.
Calsolaro, who represents the area in the 1st Ward, said there was spate of aggressive encounters between leashed and unleashed dogs earlier this summer, prompting residents to complain to him.