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North Adams Planners Recommend Overlay District for New Hospital
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:24AM / Tuesday, November 14, 2023
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BHS President and CEO Darlene Rodowicz addresses a joint hearing of the Planning Board and City Council on Monday on an overlay zoning district for the soon to reopen hospital.

BHS President Darlene Rodowicz says the zoning overlay would allow for multiple medical and health entities to operate on the hospital campus. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board on Monday voted to recommend the creation of a hospital overlay district to the City Council. 
The vote came after a joint public hearing with the council on the proposal. The City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Tuesday night. 
The new zoning overlay would pave the way for the resurrection of North Adams Regional Hospital as a critical access hospital, codify the current building configurations and allow for the existence of several medical entities on the 29-acre campus. 
The campus is currently owned by Berkshire Medical Center, which bought the assets of the now defunct North Adams Regional Hospital Inc. Its parent company, Berkshire Health Systems, is in the process of reopening the North Adams campus as a critical access hospital with up to 25 medical/surgical beds. 
Newly established North Adams Regional Hospital Corp. will comprise the hospital building, parking and helipad. There's also the Clark House, the Doctor's Building and the Ambulatory Care Center that will house other medical services.  
"What's really important here is that in order to make this work for us, we will be running as a critical access hospital. But some of the services that we provide on that campus, in particular dialysis services, is not something that can be covered under a critical access hospital," said Berkshire Health Systems President and CEO Darlene Rodowicz. "They will continue to be provided by Berkshire Medical Center."
She anticipated the hospital getting a license by February of next year.
Other services will be provided by Fairview Hospital, another affiliate of BHS. 
"Thus, the need for this change to allow multiple health system entities to be operating on that campus as one unified organizational service community," she continued. "Our goal here is to maintain all of the services that are on the campus today. And with the addition of these beds, really fulfill the reopening of the hospital."
Attorney Vicki Donahue of Cain Hibbards & Myers, representing BMC, said the overlay district would create a by-right district within the residential zone. This would eliminate the burden of having to go before the Planning Board every time there is a change in physicians in an office. 
The Hospital Avenue Overlay District would recognize existing building configurations that had been approved through special permits. This includes the elimination of a side-yard setback and setting the maximum height as the hospital's current height. 
The zero side-yard setback is necessary so the hospital building can be carved out as separate entity while still attached to the other structures, she noted. 
Currently there are no parking requirements related to the campus so BMC looked at other communities for a standard formula counting up all the medical services on campus. There are 595 parking spaces total and the proposed zoning ordinance would allow that aggregate to be used no matter where the services are located within the overlay.
In response to questions from councilors and planners, Building Inspector William Meranti said, "We've reviewed it quite a lot. Actually, I think at the city level we're all set."
There were some concerns over alternate businesses going in or a lack of inspections since a special permit would no longer be required. 
Donahue pointed out that the ordinance spelled out allowed uses within the overlay; anything outside that would require a special permit.
"If it's an allowed use in that overlay district, it does not have to come to the [Planning] Board as a change of use, much like any other place in the city," said Meranti. "It's an allowed use, but all the other bells and whistles of zoning, Inspection Services still apply." 
Chair Brian Miksic informed the planners that he had received a written opinion from the city solicitor that it was not only proper to take a vote at the hearing it was recommended. (This had come up at another public hearing when the vote was questioned because it wasn't specifically on the agenda.)
The board voted to recommend adoption of the zoning overlay; Dean Bullett abstained because he works for BHS and and Kyle Hanlon was absent.
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