by Nick Welsh
After an intense and double-barreled lobbying campaign led by neighborhood activists and Cottage Hospital critics Cheri Rae and her husband John McKinney, Cottage officials reluctantly agreed to postpone an August 17 hearing on their plans to build 115 new homes on the site of the former St. Francis Hospital. Cottage agreed to the one-month delay after City Councilmembers Helene Schneider and Das Williams — as well as Community Development Director Paul Casey — called and asked them to do so. While Schneider and Williams are both supportive of Cottage’s housing plans — 70 percent of the units would be price-restricted to be affordable to Cottage workers with household incomes between $52,000 and $120,000 — they argued people living in the affected neighborhood should be given more time to digest the three volumes of environmental documents on the proposed housing plan, released two weeks ago.
Initially, Cottage officials refused to allow their critics more time, citing the three years they’d already spent waiting to get Planning Commission approval. Ultimately, Schneider and Williams persuaded Cottage officials their case would be stronger if their proposal wasn’t clouded by procedural controversy. Meanwhile, activist Rae remained upset at the amount of effort she had to expend just to be allowed the opportunity to give informed comment. While voluminous, the Environmental Impact Report does not appear fatal to Cottage’s plans; its most problematic conclusions are that the short-term construction impacts can’t be mitigated and the project could increase traffic congestion at several downtown intersections in the long term. The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the Cottage plan and its attendant environmental documents on September 14.