Nov 09, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
This is the first in a two-part article on Victory Sports Medicine and Orthopedics proposed Victory Campus.
The past few weeks have seen a turmoil of activity, conversation, consternation and criticism in Skaneateles over the proposed Victory Sports Medicine campus to be built on 99.5 acres of land just east of the village. Although this project began more than four years ago, it was not until the Town Planning Board, in an Oct. 16 meeting, completed the State Environmental Quality Review Act assessment and voted for a negative declaration that the project exploded into a local controversy.
Since then, passions have risen, accusations have been flung, arguments have been made and a public information campaign has been begun by a group of project opponents. But what has not happened in the media or the public arena, according to VSM owner Dr. Pietropaoli and Chief Operating Officer Lance Wardell, is a complete explanation and understanding of the entire project and its history, and the great pains they have taken to comply with all the various laws associated with such a large development and to consider public interests and concerns.
Pietropaoli and Wardell agreed to sit down with the Skaneateles Press for what turned into a two-and-a-half-hour interview. The Press also has examined the entire four years of planning board records for the VSM project.
“We expected opposition but nothing like this. Some of the stuff that’s been said and done, I’m not okay with,” said Pietropaoli, who has lived in Skaneateles for 14 years. “I love the area; I love the lake. Why would I want to mess it up? I’m not a developer. This is a business. … I’m being made to look like a villain for putting in something healthy and creating jobs. … What are we doing that is so villainous, or is it some other people’s personal agendas?”
During the four-year life of the VSM “Victory Campus,” as the project is officially called, there have been multiple changes to the development plans as the planning and zoning issues have been addressed. The most current project narrative was submitted to the Town Planning Board on Oct. 5, 2012. According to that narrative, the Victory Campus is set on 99.5 acres of land off Route 20 less than a mile east of East Lake Road. There are 76.93 developable acres of land in the parcel and 22.57 undevelopable acres consisting of wetlands. The project calls for 76 acres of open space upon completion, and, according to town code, athletic fields are considered open space.
The Victory Campus will include a 61,000 square foot medical and research facility; a 171,000 square foot indoor recreational, athletic and rehabilitation facility (containing mostly indoor athletic fields); and a dozen outdoor multi-use and baseball/softball fields, four of which will be artificial turf and the rest natural grass.
The project is scheduled to be built in two phases, with the medical building and four adjacent multi-use fields to be completed in phase 1, and the remaining eight outdoor fields to the south of the medical building to be done in phase two.
The medical and research facility will be anchored by the VSM medical practice, and it also will have multiple tenants with a focus on sports medicine, orthopedics, primary care, pain management and health and wellness. It will also include the Skaneateles Urgent Care facility, an ambulatory surgery center, a diagnostic imaging suite and medical research offices. This facility is an expansion of the current 6,000 square-foot VSM offices, which the practice has outgrown, and is also intended as a one-stop-shop for sports medicine treatment with diagnosis, x-rays, surgery and rehabilitation all offered in one complex rather than a patient traveling to multiple different offices often in different locations.
The indoor recreational, athletic training and rehabilitation center will ultimately be a 171,000 square-foot facility, but is planned to be built in two phases. Phase one will be a 91,000 square-foot facility that will house the VSM physical therapy team, a fitness/athletic performance training center, multi-use basketball/volleyball courts, a raised indoor track, group exercise studios, locker rooms, a café/cafeteria for staff and guests, a rock climbing wall, ropes course, and more.
Phase two of the indoor center will be 80,000 square-feet and will contain indoor courts and fields for multi-use softball/baseball/football/lacrosse/field hockey and more sports. “These indoor courts and fields would be used for practices, games, tournaments, coaching clinics, injury prevention programs, wellness & exercise programs, and more,” according to the narrative.
The outdoor athletic fields and recreational areas of the Victory Campus will accommodate just about any outdoor sports available, such as football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, softball, baseball and others. Four of the fields will be artificial turf and plans currently call for 17 light poles ranging from 70 to 90 feet in height, which require a variance to be granted by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals. The remaining lights around the campus will be 20 feet in height or less. There will also be outdoor, covered, multi-use basketball/volleyball and tennis courts adjacent to the training building.
“The fields and outdoor courts will be utilized by youth, high school, college and professional athletes and teams. In addition, local community members, students, athletes, coaches, weekend warriors, children, parents, grandparents, etc. will have access to the fields and courts,” the narrative states.
The Victory Campus also will include nature trails for hiking, walking, running and biking throughout the complex; and there are plans for playgrounds, ropes courses, picnic areas, and other community-friendly amenities. There will be outbuildings throughout the campus for restrooms, concessions, storage and maintenance.
There will be a total of 350 parking spaces through the entire campus, with 250 to be located next to the medical building in phase one and the other 100 near the phase two outdoor athletic fields.
The hours of operation for the medical facility will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with Urgent Care open until 10 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. The indoor athletic facilities will be open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. All activities on the outdoor, lighted fields will end no later than 11 p.m.
Changes in the plan?
One of the main public criticisms of the VSM Victory Campus project is that the scope of it has changed between 2008 and 2012, that it has increased exponentially in size and is no longer the same project today as was presented to the public first in 2009 — that this was a medical facility with supporting athletic fields and now it is a sports complex that also has a medical facility. This concern started earlier in 2012 when VSM changed the plan to include artificial turf fields and the 70-to-90 foot field lighting, and has been raised not only by the public but also by town officials.
At the Aug. 7 ZBA meeting, Chairman David Graham “stated that it was his understanding that the original concept was for an expanded office/medical practice,” rather than a campus. Wardell responded at that time that Pietropaoli’s vision always included a campus with a performance center and athletic fields and the only thing that changed was the inclusion of field lighting.
Skaneateles Town Planner Howard Brodsky also asked this question at the Aug. 21, 2012 planning board meeting, and then in an Aug. 24 follow-up email to VSM planner Matt Vredenburgh, of edr companies: “Is it a medical facility with supporting and incidental athletic fields or is it now something different? The addition of artificial turf and field lighting are at least enhancements of your original proposal. But these improvements are substantial and tend to be construed as qualitatively altering the overall functioning of the site. You should restate and expand the narrative. … This expanded explanation should now include a discussion of the separate traffic and parking demand for the fields and the medical facility … The changes to the fields potentially alter the daily usage of the site and may even have seasonal implications … You should also address spectator seating and if there are any anticipated special events.”
Pietropaoli stated at the Aug. 21 planning board meeting that “the scope of the project has not changed since the beginning discussions.” In his recent interview with the Press he reiterated that “the scope is exactly the same.” Wardell agreed, and added that the only change in scope was the size of the medical and recreational buildings.
Planning board records on the project show this to be an accurate statement. The initial November 2008 site plan submission map and a Dec. 12, 2008 joint town board and planning board preliminary conference on the project show, that the original building plans called for an approximately 100,000-square-foot building , versus the 232,000-square-foot facility now planned. The early plans and maps show approximately the same amount of outdoor athletic fields in the plan as there are currently in the latest submission, only the configuration of fields is different. Also different is the number of construction phases for the plan, but what was to be built has not changed.
Pietropaoli and Wardell told the Press that the current perception that the project, if approved as is, will, by 2013, have built a sprawling sports complex covering the entire 99.5 acres of site land is just not correct.
“This is not a sports complex. The fields take up one-third of it, and the major centerpiece is the medical facility,” Pietropaoli said. He reiterated that about 76 acres of the entire property will be dedicated as open space (which includes the athletic fields), and the property will not be covered in buildings. “We’re not putting a factory in, or crack houses or adult bookstores. We’re not going to ruin the infrastructure of the town. … I understand people who don’t agree [but] a lot of worse businesses could be put there,” Pietropaoli said.
Pietropaoli and Wardell referred to the survey done in the November 2008 initial site plan that showed the various zoning uses for the entirety of the property. The majority of the land is zoned for residential uses, and can accommodate 28 houses of 168,000 square feet each. The land on Route 20 is zoned highway commercial and industrial, and can accommodate two 40,000 square foot industrial buildings and three 100,000 square foot highway commercial businesses.
As for the actual construction of the campus, all of the 12 athletic fields shown on the site plans may not even ultimately be built, Pietropaoli said.
Phase one of the project — the medical building and four adjacent multi-use fields (football/soccer/lacrosse and baseball) – will be built. “We will do this … and we know it will be successful,” Pietropaoli said.
The current timeline to complete Phase One will be “at least” 12 to 18 months from now, “and that’s conservative,” Wardell said.
Phase two of the project — the remaining eight outdoor fields to the south of the medical building, which will have the majority of the controversial 70-to-90-foot field lighting poles – may not, in fact, ever come to fruition, Pietropaoli said. “There’s no guarantee we will do it,” he said. “Ideally we would like to do it, but we may decide not to. All those options exist.”
Planning board records show that Pietropaoli and Wardell have both made that statement – no guarantee of phase two being completed — multiple times. The confusion, they said, is the fact that the planning board required them from the beginning to show project plans and maps in its entirety, regardless of the schedule of construction, which is why, for example, although the 2008 plans show all 12 athletic fields, the map actually emphasizes the Phase One aspects over the southern fields.
“You have to stress that this is going in in phases,” Pietropaoli said. “It’s going to take time.”
The state-mandated environmental assessment form, completed in late September/early October by VSM, states final completion of the project projected for December 2020.
Controversial field lights
The most immediate issue (and controversy) surrounding this project is the matter of the athletic field light poles. VSM is proposing 17 poles of 70-to-90-feet in height for some of the outdoor athletic fields. The proposal requires a variance from the ZBA since town zoning law prohibits anything above 20 feet. The ZBA held a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 23. Nearly 100 concerned residents attended the meeting with more than one dozen speaking in opposition to the variance, citing concerns over harmful precedent for future developments in the town and harsh light pollution into neighbors’ homes.
Musco Lighting representative Don Rhuda said field lights at 20 feet tall basically spray light forward and outward in order to illuminate the field, which creates light “spillage” in all directions and therefore would be more visible to neighbors. The 70-foot lights, by contrast, are so tall as to aim the lights downward onto the field. They also have hoods on the light bulbs that focus and direct the light downward, minimizing light spillage off the field.
This Victory Campus has a “photometric plan” to use state-of-the-art, dark sky-compliant, lights with hooded bulbs to focus the light onto the fields and minimize light scatter off the property. “Mr. Rhuda can do that,” Pietropaoli said. “If we weren’t able to do it, the board wouldn’t approve it.”
VSM demonstrated the proposed lights on Sept. 11, 2012 (two poles, with six lights per pole), which all members of both the planning board and zoning board of appeals attended, as did some neighbors. “It is a strong statement” that every member of both boards attended the demonstration, Pietropaoli said. “Everybody was impressed. Seeing is believing.”
Pietropaoli said some of the people who now are opposing the light variance were at the Sept. 11 demonstration and said at that time they had no problem with the lights.
The question that opponents are asking now, and members of the planning board have asked at past meetings, is, Why does the Victory Campus need outdoor field lighting at all? Why is there a need for night activities?
“There are several reasons,” Pietropaoli said. Austin Park has only one lighted field and it is difficult for kids leagues to use it because of the number of adult leagues there at night. He said that form his experience coaching numerous sports teams throughout his life, kids love playing under the lights. “It’s the treat of a lifetime,” he said.
Pietropaoli said he believes people will not only want to use these fields, but there are certain times of the year where lighted fields are needed, such as in fall and winter (weather depending) when it gets dark outside early but teams still have to practice after school, or in the summer when baseball teams want to play at night.
Pietropaoli emphasized that while the stated shut-off time for the lights is 11 p.m., how often the fields are actually used will depend on the time of year.
“The lights will not be on every single night, obviously the cost of that would be somewhat prohibitive,” he said. “The lights won’t be on 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 365 days a year.” He said the field lights will only be used on an as-needed basis when there are athletic games and activities actually using the fields.
If the ZBA denies the variance request for the higher light poles, the VSM plan will have to be revised to take into account use of lights 20-feet tall or less to comply with the town zoning code. When asked if a ZBA denial would mean that instead of 17 poles with 70-foot lights the plan would change to something like 35 or more poles with 20-foot lights, Pietropaoli said that “would not be ideal.” He did not want to speculate, however, on how his plans would have to change if the light variance is denied.
“I’d be interested to see why they would not approve the height of the poles,” he said, adding that it would have to be a decision based on the law. “We’d have to see why they denied it and then what we can do. Let’s just see what they say,” he said.
The next ZBA meeting, at which the VSM light variance will be discussed, is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the Skaneateles Fire Hall.
Part two of this report, which will examine environmental issues, drainage, future development around the property, traffic and parking on the campus and allowed public use of the fields will be in next week’s issue of the Skaneateles Press
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.