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Highland Hospital gets expansion OK

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Highland Hospital and its residential neighbors have finally found some common ground, allowing the hospital to move ahead with its $70 million expansion plan.

City Council unanimously approved Highland Hospital's application last week to rezone the hospital's 9.27-acre site from an Institutional Planned Development District to a Planned Development District.

Highland needed the rezoning before it could add four stories to the three-story surgery center it completed a few years ago. The new construction will allow Highland to convert 60 semi-private rooms to all private rooms.

But Highland had to agree to some last-minute changes to satisfy its neighbors' concerns about the hospital's future growth plans. The changes involved reductions to building heights. For instance, Highland was seeking a building height of 94 feet at Mt. Vernon Avenue and Bellevue Drive of 94 feet; in the compromise, the maximum height was reduced to 60 feet. And instead of a maximum height of 178 feet for the tallest building on the site, Highland has agreed to 155 feet.

Residents living in homes close to the hospital had already reached an agreement with Highland over its immediate plan to add four stories, says Michael Thompson, a member of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association. The sticking point for residents has mainly been about the maximum height allowed under the rezoning in any future expansion plans, he says.

"People were concerned that the hospital would just overrun the neighborhood at some point," Thompson says. The intensity of living close to the hospital would change the feeling of the Highland Park neighborhood, and it would also damage the attraction people have for coming to Highland Hospital, Thompson says.

"And I think they understand that," he says.