Hospital and neighbors appeal portions of cancer treatment center plan

·3 min read

Aug. 26—A decision last month by the Santa Fe Planning Commission to approve most of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center's proposal for a new $80 million cancer treatment facility is facing appeals to the City Council on two fronts.

The hospital has filed an appeal of the commission's rejection of its request for a slope variance — which would have allowed the hospital to forgo a requirement to maintain a 30 percent slope at an arroyo that would run through the cancer center's parking lot.

The variance would allow the hospital to use more space on the property and build a lot to fit 237 vehicles. Without it, there is only enough room for about 175 spots, the hospital has said.

Meanwhile, residents in a neighborhood near the hospital are appealing the commission's approval of a height variance for the project, allowing an additional 7 or 8 feet beyond the 25-foot height limit for buildings in the area.

Several neighbors gathered at commission meetings in July to raise concerns about Christus St. Vincent's plan to build the 7.4-acre cancer center adjacent to its 47-acre campus on St. Michael's Drive to address what hospital President and CEO Lillian Montoya has called a growing need in Santa Fe.

Hospital officials have said the new facility would be able to serve up to 50,000 patients a year, compared to 36,000 to 40,000 patients it now sees annually for cancer care.

Anna Darrah, vice-chairwoman of the Santa Fe Film and Digital Media Commission, said in an interview Thursday she filed the appeal of the height variance on behalf of about 60 neighbors who oppose parts of the hospital's project. However, she said they are "working on improving the relationship with the hospital. That's what we want."

She and other members of the community had argued at commission meetings the project could bring added traffic to the area, noise and potential contamination of a city water tank.

Darrah wrote in the neighbors' appeal that "if applicants were entitled to be excused from obeying the law whenever the law interfered with their preferences, the law would be a dead letter."

The Planning Commission postponed a vote on the cancer center project July 7 after hearing neighbors' concerns and complaints. Commissioners approved the project master plan July 21 but voted to deny the slope variance.

Arturo Delgado, a spokesman for Christus St. Vincent, wrote in an email Thursday the hospital "has filed an appeal and is working its way through an approval process that will allow us to continue our mission of serving our community by expanding critically needed cancer services in North Central New Mexico."

The hospital's appeal says the rejection of the slope variance "unnecessarily and unjustifiably deprives the Appellant of badly needed parking."

The large, open area "is not accessible for any use whatsoever," the appeal states, and rejection of the parking lot plan "creates an area of land that will continue to erode and degrade as a result of the stormwaters that are already artificially channeled and directed into this drainage."

Some people had suggested the hospital instead build a parking structure, Jennifer Jenkins of the project management firm JenkinsGavin told the commission a parking structure would require an additional $3 million and would result in fewer spaces than needed.

In the neighbors' appeal of the project's height variance, Darrah noted the city code has five criteria to justify a zoning variance. The commission "incorrectly determined" some findings of fact, she wrote, citing the hospital's plan to have "leasable space" on site.

Darrah argued this means the hospital plans to use the facility in ways that "may not be essential to its core mission, and that the facility, if limited to its core mission, might not require a variance."

The commission also overlooked whether the variance was in the public's interest, she added.