If you go by Riverhead Town’s code alone, Peconic Bay Medical Center has enough parking spaces.
But the parking situation at the hospital — which both town officials and hospital representatives acknowledged could be improved — may not be good enough to survive an environmental review without some “strong language,” according to Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter.
At issue is an application by PBMC to expand the hospital, including a three-story, 54,000-square-foot addition that would feature more emergency room space, a cardiac catheterization center, a new intensive care unit and a heliport. In order to move forward, the hospital’s site plan will need to not only be approved by the town but also go through an environmental review process.
Town officials said that while the hospital currently has enough parking at its hospital, as well as across the street on Roanoke Avenue, the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, process will be more critical of the parking situation.
At Thursday morning’s work session, members of the Town Board met with representatives of the hospital to discuss a solution.
“The hospital is very aware of the issue,” said PBMC board of directors chair Sherry Patterson. Ms. Patterson said the hospital is in negotiations to purchase or create a lease for two properties nearby for more parking. If that fails, she said the medical center may also decide to construct a parking garage.
“We know we have to do it,” she said.
PBMC’s attorney Kimberly Judd said many hospitals across Long Island struggle with a lack of parking.
“This is not a problem unique to Peconic Bay,” she said. Ms. Patterson said the medical center is committed to not charging for parking, which makes it harder to raise funding because many in the Riverhead community can’t pay for it.
The town code calls for 1.5 parking spaces for every bed in a hospital, language that some in Town Hall have described as outdated. Regardless, SEQRA will have more stringent definitions, Mr. Walter said.
“We have to work with SEQRA to make this work,” he said, adding that changing codes or enforcement patterns would affect other properties as well. “Let’s navigate this in the best way we can.”
Ms. Judd said the hospital won’t be able to get more parking quickly enough to move its expansion project forward on time.
“I don’t think you can hold our feet to the fire to get this done in the next two months to get this project approved,” she said.
The town’s solution? Include language in the final report that acknowledges a need for more parking and bars additional expansion at the medical center until a parking garage is built or more parking can be found.
Mr. Walter said that “affirmative language” would likely be enough to satisfy the requirements of SEQRA without holding up PBMC’s project over a parking problem. Originally, Mr. Walter suggested banning any kind of construction, but Ms. Judd suggested the language refer specifically to barring new beds at the hospital, since that’s what the town code is based off.
“We will work with the hospital,” Mr. Walter said.
PBMC representatives also said they’re waiting on Northwell Health to approve a plan for where to land helicopters during construction. Mr. Walter said he will question what that aspect of the site plan includes at the project’s upcoming public hearing on Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.
Photo caption: Riverhead Town elected officials and town building and planning administrator Jeff Murphree (right) discuss PBMC’s expansion proposal as representatives to the hospital listen. (Credit: Paul Squire)