Eastern Long Island Hospital’s request for a variance to install new illuminated signs on its property has shed light on other unpermitted signage and Village code violations at the hospital, Greenport Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Doug Moore said at last week’s meeting.
ELIH wants to install two freestanding illuminated signs near the building’s entrance on Manor Place. Hospital representative Ray Eble said the signs are needed to direct traffic to the emergency room and around ambulance lanes. He said state Department of Health regulations require the hospital to have emergency room signs that are lit 24 hours a day.
Under the proposal, a new 10-foot-high sign would be placed at the intersection of Manor Place and Atlantic Avenue. A second L-shaped sign would replace an existing unlit sign at the hospital’s main entrance farther west on Manor Place, according to the application.
Since village code prohibits directly lit signs, the proposal requires a variance. Both signs would also exceed 24 square feet, the maximum size the code allowed.
During three months of public hearings on the application, Greenport residents have not only spoken out against the new signs but also raised concerns over the legality of the hospital’s existing lights and signs.
The village has since looked into current signage at the hospital overall.
“The problem I saw at the site visit is that there are already a large number of lighted signs for which [the ZBA] has no knowledge of variances or history of those signs,” Mr. Moore said following the most recent hearing Thursday night. “There is a lack of file record if they were a part of building plans. No variances were granted.”
Unlike neighboring Southold and Southampton towns, Greenport Village doesn’t have dark skies laws to dictate the amount of light that can be emitted from a structure, Mr. Moore said. Instead, it has laws that restrict excessive, continuous light emission from carrying over property lines, making the glare a violation, he said.
Village Planning Board member Pat Mundus agreed at a September hearing that the glare extending from the hospital’s property line exceeds the amount allowed under village code.
“The outdoor lighting of Eastern Long Island Hospital is not shielded to direct its safety lighting downward, where it belongs,” Ms. Mundus said. “Mariners rely on excellent visibility at night to locate channels, to avoid striking unlit navigational aids or hazards and to avoid collisions. Instead it radiates outward and at excessive wattage, blinding anyone entering Sterling Harbor after dark.”
Neighbors closest to the hospital also said at the September hearing that the exterior lights create an “offensive glare” that extends out beyond the hospital’s property line.
“It is a major annoyance to the property owners across from the harbor,” said Richard Kohut of Sterling Street. “Shining in bedroom windows, it illuminates the interior of our house at night. I’m not opposed in principle to additional lighting at the hospital, but I think there should be an overall lighting study and evaluation done first before any additional lights are approved,”
During the September public hearing, ELIH’s Mr. Eble said he believes the light causing the most complaints from residents is one the village installed in the hospital parking lot after a hospital employee was assaulted there. The village has since dimmed that light from 1,000 watts to 400 watts, Mr. Moore said Thursday. The hospital, too, has dimmed its light facing the harbor, Mr. Eble said.
To help curb the neighbors’ concerns about the lighting of the harbor, Mr. Eble said during the most recent public hearing that ELIH would submit another application to change the sign facing the water. Instead of a white backlit emergency sign, he said the sign would be red or blue with white illuminated lettering. The hospital has not yet submitted that application, but Mr. Eble said after the meeting the hospital would pursue the change after a final decision is made on the current proposal.
ZBA member David Corwin said during the September hearing that most of the existing problems with the property do not fall under ZBA purview and said the village building inspector Eileen Wingate should evaluate residents’ concerns.
“The ZBA has no jurisdiction over lights, certainly not existing ones,” Mr. Corwin said. “Anyone that has a legitimate concern —and I’m not saying it’s not a legitimate concern, because it is — can go to the building inspector, file a complaint and try to get her to do her job.”
Mr. Kohut said Sterling Street residents have notified Ms. Wingate of the glare on several occasions over the past two years. They have contacted other village officials as well about their concerns, including the mayor and village administrator. Additionally, Mr, Kohut said, residents have written to the president of the hospital asking him to correct the problem.
“Over the last two years we’ve attempted that route,” he said during the September hearing. “I think this is a good opportunity to address the overall problem and request a lighting study as Southold Town would do.”
Ms. Wingate said that since signage at ELIH is regulated by the state the hospital has previously not asked to install signs, but now the village is requesting they go through the formal permitting process.
“It is a difficult situation to regulate,” she said in a telephone interview this week. “The hospital is a good neighbor and a vital part of the community. They are rethinking the property’s lighting scheme.”
Southold Town Board member Jim Dinizio, a village resident, told ZBA members at the most recent public hearing Thursday that the town has dealt with similar lighting problems in the past and invested in LED lights for town streetlights.
Mr. Dinizio said he supports the hospital and believes that the public needs clear directions to the emergency room.
“I hope you can keep in mind that this is a working hospital and we are lucky to have it,” he said. “This hospital spends every bit of money it has trying to save people.”
Village Board member George Hubbard, who lives on Manor Place across from the proposed lighted sign, agreed there’s a problem with excessive glare at the hospital but chose to focus on the application at hand during Thursday’s meeting.
“I have always lived across the street from that hospital and I’m not against them,” Mr. Hubbard said. “But a 10-foot sign … is inappropriate anywhere in the village.”
Mr. Moore said the ZBA hopes to make a decision on the application before the end of the year.