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Highland's growth worries neighbors 

If City Council approves a rezoning request next week, Highland Hospital will be able to move forward with its estimated $70 million plan to add four stories to the existing three-story building.

The City Planning Commission approved Highland's application last month to rezone the hospital's 9.27-acre site from an Institutional Planned Development District to a Planned Development District. The rezoning is on the agenda for City Council's Tuesday, March 19, meeting.

Highland officials want to begin construction in 2020, completing the seven-story building in 2022.

The rezoning, which was necessary for any further expansion, concerns Highland's residential neighbors almost as much as the new development itself. They say it opens the door for the hospital's continued growth in a residential neighborhood.

Hospital officials say that the expansion is necessary to stay competitive in a rapidly changing field. An analysis done in 2009 indicated that the hospital needed as much as 130,000 square feet of additional space, says hospital spokeswoman Maureen Malone.

The new structure would add 68,000 square feet and allow Highland to convert its 60 semi-private rooms into private rooms. The addition would not increase the number of beds at Highland, which stands at 261, Malone says.

Patients want private rooms, Malone says, and private rooms tend to reduce infections during hospital stays.

Some of Highland's neighbors are concerned about the hospital's future plans. And their immediate concern is the height of the proposed seven-story building.

"The height is inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood," Michael Thompson, a resident on Rockingham Street, told planning commissioners at last month's hearing.

But hospital officials say that they have few options when it comes to expansion. Residents strongly opposed plans several years earlier that would have allowed for new development off its 9.27 acre site into the surrounding area.

"If we can't go out, we have to go up," Malone says.


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