Parking spots at Samaritan project spark fire-lane debate

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WATERTOWN — Samaritan Medical Center’s women’s health center project on Washington Street will not include 16 additional parking spaces that Councilman Mark C. Walczyk had pushed for on Monday night.

The councilman on Monday successfully lobbied his colleagues to put the 16 parking spots back into plans for the women’s health wellness center, 1575 Washington St., even though Samaritan Medical Center officials were fine that they were left out of the approved site plans back in May.

The city’s Code Enforcement scrapped the 16 parking spots from a new 45,150-square-foot parking lot at the Medical Center, so that a fire lane could adequately allow city fire department vehicles access to the wellness center in case of an emergency.

After conferring with Fire Chief Dale C. Herman, the city’s code office determined that the fire lane should be 30 feet wide, not the 24 feet that Samaritan had put into engineering plans. In May, hospital officials went along with the change, despite the loss of 16 parking spots.

But Councilman Walczyk was joined on Monday by council members Cody J. Horbacz and Lisa A. Ruggiero in agreeing that the fire lane should go back to 24 feet.

On Wednesday, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said it’s strictly the code office’s call to make about the width of the fire lane.

Mr. Slye concluded that state codes makes it clear that it’s the responsibility of the code enforcement officer to determine the width of a fire lane.

Code Enforcement Supervisor Shawn R. McWayne’s office decided the fire lane should be 30 feet, so it will be 30 feet, Mr. Slye said.

“The 30 feet is going to stick,” he said. “The width is what it needs to be. We’re obligated to enforce codes.”

Councilman Horbacz said it was “unfortunate” that the parking spots are going to left out of the project, adding that the city should do more to help Samaritan develop the project.

“We should not make it any harder for businesses,” he said.

The discussion on the fire lane and parking spots came up on Monday night while council members were considering the final site plan approval for the new wellness center.

Councilman Walczyk acknowledged that Samaritan officials had not asked him to lobby for putting the 16 parking spaces back into the plans.

“I’m probably being a better advocate for them than themselves,” he said on Monday.

Mayor Joseph Butler Jr. voted to keep the 30-foot-wide fire lane, saying that he had “not heard any push back from Samaritan officials.” He also contended that the city should adhere to code.

“I remind council that Samaritan agreed to this,” Mr. Slye told council members on Monday.

Some City Hall staff admitted privately they were baffled by the City Council’s action to change it back to accommodate the 16 additional parking spots.

Samaritan will create a full-service women’s wellness center and breast clinic in the 67,000-square-feet building by relocating its obstetrics and gynecology at Washington Summit there. Samaritan’s Woman to Woman clinic already occupies a part of the building.

Site plans included repaving the current parking lot, creating a parking lot for employees at the north end of the site and constructing a 2,700-square-foot addition on the front of the building.

It’s not the first time that Councilman Walczyk has fought for more parking.

Since he took office in 2015, he’s taken a keen interest in adding more parking in the city, especially for the businesses in and around Public Square.

During his first meeting as a councilman, he successfully lobbied for a single parking spot for the Northern New York Community Foundation for its new home in the former Black River Valley Club at 131 Washington St.

It was a similar situation because the community foundation had not asked to include the additional parking spot in the original plans for that project.

Councilman Walczyk did not return a reporter’s phone call for comment on Wednesday. Samaritan spokeswoman Krista A. Kittle also could not be reached for comment.

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