PROVO As the city's Planning Commission considered a rezone Wednesday for a Utah Valley Regional Medical Center parking lot, local residents said the hospital is bullying them off their property.
The commission unanimously voted to pass a request on to the City Council for UVRMC's rezone and plans to construct a 211-stall parking lot on two acres located at 405 West and 940 North but not before neighborhood residents said they feel pressured to sell their property to the hospital.
Jeff Taylor, who lives near 860 North, said UVRMC representatives initially assured homeowners the hospital would be a good neighbor and wouldn't muscle anyone out. However, he said past experience has proved otherwise.
"Their behavior has raised questions to their true intentions," he said.
UVRMC has bought a number of homes south of the hospital campus and has already torn down four along 300 West. Taylor said the demolitions decrease the value of the surrounding properties.
"It's like artillery going on around us," he said. "It's like they're saying, 'Deal with us or else."'
Greg Gaytan, who represented a homeowner in the area, said the hospital's tactics are "tacky."
"It's psychological warfare," he said. "Buy the whole neighborhood, maintain it, and then knock them all down when you're ready to build the parking lot."
UVRMC agent Wayne Smith said hospital representatives have done all they can to mitigate issues with neighbors. He also said one of the houses needed to be demolished because it tested positive for meth.
"Sometimes we have to tear down a home here and there," he said.
Planning Commission member Roy Peterman didn't let that statement go unchallenged.
"Because of what you're doing, the property values are going down," he said to Smith. "They have absolutely no control over it no wonder they're upset."
Neighborhood chairman Jim Pettersson said most of the homeowners are prepared to sell, but they disagree with the hospital over what is "fair market value" for their homes. He said they also complain the hospital isn't forthcoming about the timeline for when the parking lot will be built, which makes it difficult for them to determine their options.
"They need to be more up-front," he said.
Bryant Larsen, UVRMC director of communications, said they've had meetings with the neighbors for more than a year and a half, and the hospital plans to continue to "work through difficulties with them," but he couldn't give a timeline.
"I wish I could tell them more definitively," he said.
Peterman called the lack of clear communication with residents a "public relations train wreck" for the hospital.
"I can't imagine a single person (in that community) who doesn't have fear and trepidation," he said.
As the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to pass the measure on to the City Council, commission chairman Leonard Mackay emphasized to the audience of about 30 that they were simply approving the rezone and project plan. He said the vote didn't mean they were siding with the hospital in the ongoing dispute."That's a personal problem between you and the hospital," he said. "Work on it together and come to a conclusion."