RANDOLPH – In an exciting reversal, the District 3 Environmental Commission on Jan. 3 awarded Gifford Medical Center a long-sought partial approval for a planned senior living community in Randolph Center.
The commission granted Gifford approval on an Act 250 criterion regarding construction on primary agriculture soils, clearing the way for the Randolph-based medical center to move forward with filing for the final phases of Act 250 review next month.
“We’re very happy. This is great news. The favorable ruling by Act 250 will allow us to move forward with one of the most important aspects of the project,” said hospital Administrator Joseph Woodin.
Gifford has been striving to meet the community’s need for senior residential and medical care since May 2011, when it began meeting with community groups to solicit input. In October of that year, Gifford filed for partial review under Act 250 and received approval on all but the primary agricultural soils criterion.
In the ensuing months, Gifford has filed revised plans that propose a more compact design, grouping 30 nursing home units, 20 assisted living units and as many as 100 independent units – built in phases – higher up on the hillside property, leaving significant open space. Gifford has owned the property, located off Route 66 and the Ridge Road in Randolph Center, since 2008.
The new plan the Environmental Commission approved finds “the applicant has made a reasonable effort to reduce the impact on (primary agricultural soils) such that the remaining primary agricultural soils on the project tract are capable of supporting or contributing to an economic or commercial agricultural operation.”
A majority of the regional commissioners agreed that 14.4 acres will be impacted by new development and 15.5 acres of prime agricultural soils will be conserved on the site. Off-site mitigation, essentially payment toward conservation of farmland elsewhere, will be required to off-set the developed land.
Woodin called the process necessarily complicated and thanked commissioners for their thoughtful and detailed review. “We recognize this is very complicated. Understandably, it’s taken a long time to get this approval. We’re thankful for the commissioners’ time and effort.”
The hospital’s goal is to file for the final phases of Act 250 review in February. The project will be back before the Randolph Development Review Board on Jan. 22. Gifford has also already started the process of garnering a Certificate of Need from the state, an additional permission required of hospitals.
Going forward, said Woodin, “We will continue to be transparent and responsive to community questions and regulatory issues.”
A major advantage of the elongated Act 250 partial review process is that the various boards reviewing the project at a state and local level are already well familiar with it. “Much of what we’ve submitted is relevant to the next phase, so we’re well on our way,” Woodin said.
Burgeoning community support has been another major plus. “This is a community project,” said Woodin. “Gifford is just the facilitator.”
And community members have spoken up, calling in their support, writing letters, asking about move-in dates and contributing financially to what will eventually be a more public fund-raising campaign.
“There’s such a vital need for this in our community, from both the residential and medical perspective,” said Sharon Dimmick, chairwoman of Gifford’s Board of Trustees. “The public is so supportive of this project, and the Randolph Center location is the perfect spot for it.”
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the level of support from the community and donors. Clearing this hurdle is a tipping point for us as this project moves far closer to becoming a reality for so many in need,” added Gifford Trustee Lincoln Clark.