Munson Township resident Dorothy Bauer understands that the University Hospital’s Geauga Medical Center benefits Geauga County.
“It’s important to have a good hospital – it’s an asset for the county,” she said.
Mrs. Bauer also knows the daily workings of a hospital, having earned a living for 14 years at the hospital’s main campus in downtown Cleveland working in the surgical unit.
And, living just north of Hospital Drive that leads to the local hospital’s emergency room, she sees and hears the local hospital’s daily service to the community. “Every time we hear an ambulance’s siren, I tell my grandchildren to pray for the person,” she said.
But, Mrs. Bauer is now concerned that the care they have shown to their patients is not the same they show to their neighbors.
About three weeks ago, Mrs. Bauer walked out her back door to see a lot cleared of trees and being prepared to be paved for a new parking lot.
“I walked out and felt like crap,” she said.
Trees that once provided a barrier to the sounds and sights of the hospital’s workings were gone.
“I didn’t mind living next door because the trees were such a wonderful buffer,” she said.
While she is upset that she was never notified, she has a greater fear that her property may be more difficult to sell with that screening gone. “My main concern is my property value,” she said. “My fear is we’ll never be able to sell our house for what we paid for it.”
Mrs. Bauer said she was in for an even bigger surprise when she went to the Munson Town Hall to learn what had happened. She learned the hospital had failed to get a proper permit for the three variances needed for the project.
George Stamatis, a media relations spokesman for the hospital, said the hospital was working to mitigate issues that have disrupted operations in the emergency department and other parts of the hospital.
“As part of that project, a detention pond will need to be located in an existing parking lot, resulting in the loss of 40 parking spaces,” Mr. Stamatis wrote in an email. “To make up for those spaces, we are expanding an existing lot, which borders Munson Township.”
He noted that the hospital did receive permits from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District for the work.
Mr. Stamatis acknowledged that the hospital’s failure to get township approval was an oversight. “Through an oversight, we did not obtain the variances necessary for part of the property that lies in Munson Township. We apologize and are working with the township to rectify the situation.”
A hearing for the variances is scheduled for Aug. 15.
Munson Township Trustee Andrew Bushman said he sympathizes with Mrs. Bauer’s situation and the township issued a stop work order, halting any further work until the variances are heard.
Mr. Bushman said the property is residentially zoned and does not include parking lots as a permitted use. He said a use variance as well as a setback variance is needed before the project can begin.
“It’s a hot mess, it really is,” he said.
Mr. Bushman said if those variances are not granted, the hospital can be ordered to remove any work on the lot and replace the trees that were taken down. “It’s happened before,” he said.
Mr. Bushman said the hospital could be ordered to install evergreen trees to provide a temporary buffer for Mrs. Bauer until the newly planted trees mature.
Mrs. Bauer said when she worked at the hospital in Cleveland, staff had a separate parking lot farther away from the hospital. The nearby parking spots, she said, were reserved for patients and their families. She said a shuttle was available for staff, but she preferred walking.
She said she wonders why a parking lot for staff cannot be placed in a similar manner, farther away and not close to its residential neighbors.
Mr. Bushman said the hospital may be in more trouble than just not getting the variances.
He said the clearing of the site was done in June, a time when there is a prohibition on felling trees in an effort to protect a federally designated endangered species, the Indiana brown bat. A prohibition on felling trees between March 31 and Nov. 1 is meant to protect the young bat’s pups.
Mr. Bushman said if the hospital receives state or federal funding, they may have to answer for taking those trees out.
“They are in more trouble than they probably realize,” Mr. Bushman said.