Joggers, cyclists and residents in the Barron Park neighborhood are concerned about a tree-clearing project that has removed 400 feet of trees and shrubs near the Bol Park bicycle path.
The clearing, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, is on VA Palo Alto Healthcare System property that abuts the city parkland. The VA is realigning a perimeter road, adding underground utilities, a low retaining wall, and building a five-story parking structure and a new radiology building as part of its overall campus expansion.
The trees, which mainly covered a 45-degree slope between the park and the VA, provided a screen from hospital buildings along the popular bike and walking path, which runs through Bol Park and between the back part of Henry M. Gunn High School and the VA property. On Wednesday, several large tree trunks were piled up on the top of the berm where the new perimeter road will be built.
Hospital spokesman Michael Hill-Jackson did not know how many trees were removed. A general estimate on Wednesday based on spacing of existing trees along the slope indicated there are six to eight trees for every 10 feet.
Jason Nietupski, chief official for facilities planning, said he has heard from a number of concerned residents, and he has assured them the area will be adequately screened with replacement plants.
"For us, we are committed to ensuring the viewshed from the walkway will be camouflaged," he said. The VA's property line is actually 10 feet further toward Bol Park, but the hospital has not gone to that edge, he said.
A low retaining wall of varying height will edge the construction, which begins about 20 feet from the property line, he said. Part of the existing loop road will expand and straighten out toward the Bol Park path to link up with the new parking structure. The parking structure will be built at the current location of Parking Lot H1 adjacent to the Bol Park path at the easternmost edge of the campus.
Anticipated construction for the project will take 30 months, Nietupski said. The perimeter road will be the first part of the construction project, and it is expected to take 12 months to complete. Screening plants will be added at that time, he said. The garage will take up to two years to complete. The radiology building is set back closer to the center of campus adjacent to Building 100. The campus requires redevelopment to accommodate a nearly three-fold increase in patients since 1997, he said. Last year, VA Palo Alto served 62,000 people, he said.
The VA has done public outreach in the past on its redevelopment project, including with Barron Park residents. Feedback the hospital received resulted in shifting a planned six-story building for the east side to the front of the hospital, Nietupski said.
Barron Park resident Doug Moran said his records show the VA announced a public outreach meeting for Oct. 29, 2008, for a different area of the campus near the Stanford Research Park and the Roble Ridge area of Barron Park. Notice regarding the current project came six weeks ago.
Barron Park Association President Markus Fromherz said the VA sent an email at that time to the group about the project, which the association sent to its members. The VA called him on Wednesday to set up a community meeting for sometime next week, he said.
"Overall I think the VA is very concerned about keeping the neighborhood informed and doing what's right for this area," he said.
Nietupski said that he has checked on damage some residents say has occurred to Bol Park grassland along the project side. He did not find any except for a few tread marks a few feet outside the VA's property line, which occurred as part of installing the construction fence. He said he would ask staff to take another look, however.