Aspen hospital plans edge closer to conceptual approval | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen hospital plans edge closer to conceptual approval

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen Valley Hospital is promising neighbors that, with a new helicopter landing pad on top of the building, the noise from incoming and outgoing medi-vac choppers will be no louder than it is today.That will be true, said the hospitals noise monitoring consultant, even through the hospital building itself basically screens the neighbors in the Meadowood subdivision from the noisiest part of the landing process, the final 15 feet or so before the machine touches ground.Tom Dunlop, former director of environmental health for Aspen and Pitkin County, made those pledges at a public hearing before the citys Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, the second in a series of four such conceptual hearings about the hospital’s plan to basically double the size of the facility at an estimated cost of $100 million.Besides the issue of how much noise the helicopters will make, commission members and hospital representatives debated about affordable housing mitigation, the use of a nearby public trail for snow storage in the winter months, and a variety of other matters.The hearing, which was continued until Aug. 5, will resume to provide the hospitals planners a chance to address the issues of transportation, traffic flow, parking and housekeeping items, among other topics.Dunlop was one of a team of experts testifying at the hearing, which was crammed at the end of a meeting that included two other, unrelated public hearings involving other land-use issues in the city.Dunlop, who helped write the current noise control ordinances in effect in Aspen and Pitkin County, set up monitoring devices around the hospitals 19-acre grounds and determined that the ambient noise levels normally hover between 50 and 60 decibels, or about what it sounds like in a crowded hearing room at City Hall.By comparison, Dunlop told the commissioners, a vacuum cleaner running in a nearby room generates about 65 decibels, while ones ears are assaulted by noise as high as 120 decibels at your average rock concert.The helicopters, he said, will be putting out around 81 decibels as far away at the Marolt housing complex downhill from the hospital, and in the nearby Meadowood streets.Neighbor Frank Goldsmith worried that the helicopters will be louder if they are landing on the roof of the expanded hospital, instead of on the ground just east of the hospital where they now land and where they are screened from Goldsmiths neighborhood by the hospital building itself.Not so, countered Dunlop, explaining that he had the test choppers from St. Marys Hospital in Grand Junction which he specifically arranged to be noisier than the machines St. Marys usually sends to Aspen hover at 15 feet above ground the simulate being on a rooftop helipad.Based on his monitoring equipment, Dunlop said, There shouldnt be any change in the noise that the neighbors would hear if the hospital were built as proposed.Another key topic at the hearing was how many credits the hospital should get for its inventory of some 44 employee housing units, which have been purchased or otherwise obtained despite the fact that the hospital has never been subject to laws requiring it to come up with such housing.According to the hospitals application, it expects 65 credits for the number of people who live in those units, but government staffers have recommended that the matter be studied in depth before any agreement is reached.For one thing, even the hospital is not sure how many additional employees will be needed to staff the expanded facility, which would determine how many employee housing units government would require the hospital to have. The commission in general voiced approval of the idea that some credits are due, and directed staff to keep working on the details.As for the trails issue, former city engineer Nick Adeh, who now works for Sopris Engineering and is a consultant for the hospital, assured the P&Z that plans to use a pedestrian trail stretching along Castle Creek Road for snow storage in winter would not interfere with public usage of the trail.But Adehs successor, current city engineer Tricia Aragon, has recommended against approval of the plan, and noted at the P&Z meeting, Thats not what a recreational trail is intended to be used for.Hospital CEO Dave Ressler said after the meeting, Im very pleased. I think were getting good, constructive feedback as to what we should be looking for in the final submission.jcolson@aspentimes.com


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