Neighbors to the immediate west of Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital in Henrico County are frustrated by the hospital's plans to expand its valet parking service and they've caught the attention of activist/preservationist Jennie Dotts.
In an effort to create roughly 130 additional parking spaces for the growing health-care facility, the hospital aims to convert a wooded lot it owns into a blacktop pavement for vehicles.
"This is MCV all over again," says Dotts, referring to the struggle preservationists have had with VCU Health Systems over what to do about that hospital's need to expand in the midst of a downtown historic district.
The situation developing in the West End neighborhood next to St. Mary's represents what happens when "institutional juggernauts are plopped down" in an established community setting, Dotts says.
Dotts, who is executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, says residents of the 1950s neighborhood of mostly small cottage-style houses recently contacted the alliance to learn whether the area might be considered a state or federally protected historic district, which would limit construction.
But Dotts says the process to make it historic, should residents pursue the status, would take longer than the hospital's anticipated project to pave part of its property.
Bon Secours spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers acknowledges that the hospital has received a lot of calls from people inquiring about its construction plans for the area and says Bon Secours is working to address and assuage the concerns.
"Everybody gets so emotional" says Henry Smith, a West End resident who lives near the hospital. The neighborhood has been a quiet one, Smith says, and homeowners worry that that could change. The 30-year-old, 391-bed hospital expansion under way, coupled with additional construction in and around its campus, could cause property values to decrease, Smith says, and create unwanted traffic along residential streets, especially Maple and Pepper avenues.
"I understand [the hospital's] need to grow," Smith says, "but encroaching on a well-established neighborhood is disruptive, and there should be room for compromise."
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