YORK, Maine — The selectmen Monday night agreed to put a measure on the May ballot discontinuing the end of Williams Avenue so York Hospital can put in a new addition and parking lot. But the discussion was not without some tense moments, and not before they extracted a promise that, in return, the hospital board will vote on a measure to provide an easement on its land next to the fire station for parking.
York Hospital and Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital Network are jointly planning to construct a 20,000-square-foot, 20-bed acute rehabilitation wing at the hospital. To do so, they need voter approval for two measures: discontinuing the last 200 feet of Williams Avenue, a selectmen’s decision, and expanding the hospital overlay district, a Planning Board decision. The Planning Board will be voting on that issue on March 8.
The addition will be built off of the Strater Wing, and the end of Williams Avenue will be turned into a parking lot. The hospital plans to raze a house it owns just before the current entrance to its condominium complex to maintain a road into the campus.
Selectmen have been interested from the beginning in the hospital’s land next to the fire station, for needed parking spaces in the village. Members of the Board of Selectmen and hospital officials had met over the course of several months, and it was initially decided that the hospital land would be a discreet discussion from the Williams Avenue discontinuance.
However, two weeks ago when the issue was brought up to the full board, selectman Robert Palmer in particular said he wanted to see the two tied together, as a land swap. In response, the hospital came back before selectmen Monday with a proposal to allow the town to lease land closest to York Street.
Under the terms, the hospital would lease the land for up to five years, with an automatic renewal of another period of up to five years — at which time it is presumed that the town would purchase the land. President and CEO Jud Knox told selectmen Monday he did not think a land swap was equitable, as the hospital already maintains the end of Williams Ave and is still providing a road into the campus there on its own property.
But Palmer Monday night held firm. “I would stick with what I said before. I appreciate the difference in economic value, but I still favor a swap.”
Chair Todd Frederick tended to agree. The lease agreement “doesn’t seem fair. What looked at the beginning as a straightforward proposal has become very complicated. We want to make sure we’re making the right decision for the citizens of York.”
Most of the selectmen said they’ve also heard from constituents who expressed concern about turning over the end of Williams Avenue to the hospital.
Town Manager Steve Burns broached the idea of an easement rather than a lease, which “may be more palatable” to the hospital board of trustees. Knox agreed. But he stressed that the board has to make this decision and isn’t meeting until later this week.
In the end, selectmen voted to put the discontinuance issue on the ballot with the understanding that an easement would be granted for 10 parking spaces contingent on Planning Board approval of the project. Burns said he will publish a draft ballot in time for the selectmen’s March 12 meeting that will include this measure, with the understanding that selectmen could remove it if they chose.
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