Open spaces

UPMC Altoona has cleared houses from a half-block on the south side of Fairview Cemetery to create 52 additional parking spaces.

When workers finish the proposed lot this fall, hospital parking will cover all the area between Ninth and 10th streets in the two blocks from Howard Avenue to 16th Avenue and give the hospital about 1,700 spaces, including some on area streets.

The hospital needs the additional spaces because of the closing of the former Bon Secours campus, widening of its service area because of its affiliation with UPMC, the adding of 32 doctors since 2011, the loss of nine parking spaces due to expansion of the Cancer Center, the addition of students on clinical rotation, placement of a fracture clinic on campus and the possibility of more patient services to be added to the vacant first floor of the Surgery Center, according to hospital spokesman Dave Cuzzolina.

Development of the new lot is both good and bad, according to city Planning Director Lee Slusser.

Good, because the project is an investment for an improvement, and some of the houses “weren’t the nicest,” according to Slusser.

Bad because it has eliminated the housing and those properties are now off the tax rolls, he said.

John Loner lives across 16th Avenue from the vacant ground that will become the parking lot.

The neighborhood surgery to satisfy the hospital’s parking needs has forced Loner to move twice so far.

Ten years ago, he moved from about two blocks away, when the hospital bought the rental house he was living in from his landlord.

Three years ago, when he was living in the recently cleared tract, the same thing happened.

“I don’t mind it,” Loner said. “As long as I don’t have to move any farther.”

Loner is aware, however, that if the encroachment of the parking lots continues in the westward direction it’s been heading – the most recent expansion was two years ago – his current rental house would be among those taken.

In that project two years ago, the hospital took five of 16 properties by eminent domain, through the Blair County Hospital Authority.

The hospital took three of the properties for the proposed project by eminent domain, after obtaining permission to do so from the authority, according to Cuzzolina.

The hospital demolished five homes on six lots this time.

The hospital paid “fair market value,” based on appraisals, Cuzzolina said.

Three of the houses were occupied when acquisition began, according to Cuzzolina.

The hospital obtained city Zoning Hearing Board permission to do the previous project as a special exception in a mixed residential-commercial zone.

The proposed project will go before the Zoning Board next week.

Whether the hospital needs yet more parking “will be determined by community need for additional medical services,” Cuzzolina said.

Eventually, it may make sense for the hospital to build a parking deck, according to Slusser.

The proposed new lot brings the parking tract that begins on Howard Avenue in catty-corner contact with the Nehemiah Project area of the Pleasant Valley Assembly of God church, Slusser observed.

The hospital’s parking lot work and the Nehemiah Project have combined to remove “a certain amount of blight,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.