Getting accustomed to your new neighbor can be tough sometimes.
Particularly when the neighbor is a seven-story, 368-bed, 680,000-square-foot regional medical center.
Just ask Marc and Robin Bailey of Voorhees, who live on three formerly bucolic acres now about 800 feet from Virtua Hospital's loading docks.
The couple has resided on a woodsy stretch of Dutchtown Road since 1989; the state-of-the-art, soon-to-expand medical campus opened along nearby Route 73 on May 22.
"I get woken up all hours of the night," says Marc, 46, a project manager for an equipment-testing company. "There's constantly trucks coming and going. Mechanical equipment on the roof runs 24 hours a day."
The Baileys have two children, 13 and 6, and a chronic lack of sleep "doesn't make you a happy person when you're dealing with your kids," says Robin, 43, a former supervisor in the township police department.
Although redevelopment rarely pauses along South Jersey's commercial corridors, the evolution of 73 between Route 70 and White Horse Pike is as dramatic as Virtua's majestic facade.
The hospital, which employs 2,200 and will soon open an ambulatory care facility south of the main building (and, coincidentally, away from the Baileys' home) insists that it has long sought to work with all of its neighbors.
Declining to discuss complaints from individual residents, Virtua officials nevertheless note that 15 regularly scheduled deliveries have been shifted from overnight to daytime hours.
"We consciously went out of our way, prior to designing the facility, to work with our neighbors, and since we moved in we continue to try to keep the relationship going," says Michael Kotzen, vice president and chief operating officer of Virtua Voorhees.
"We made some modifications to traffic patterns . . . and the [location of the] entrance. There's going to be some level of traffic because we are a 24/7 operation," Kotzen says. He says he has met with the Baileys.
Voorhees Mayor Michael Mignogna points out that the hospital has made changes to fencing, lighting, landscaping, and traffic management in response to concerns from the residents of the nearby Sturbridge and Regency neighborhoods.
"The township has tried to alleviate the Baileys' concerns," Mignogna continues. "We have increased our police presence there to make sure deliveries are done pursuant to the ordinance. Dutchtown Road has been repaved and it's no longer a through street."
The Baileys acknowledge that Virtua and Voorhees have been responsive, to a point. They welcome the changes to the delivery schedules, for example.
Despite what the mayor and Kotzen describe as extensive consultations with the community in general, the Baileys - whose modest home is isolated from the nearby developments - insist they had little chance to make their concerns known before Virtua became a reality.
Since then, they've spent countless hours filing complaints, calling police, e-mailing officials, documenting possible noise ordinance violations, and even shooting wee-hour video of noisy trucks. Marc has undergone at-home sleep monitoring, even posting the results on virtuaneighborsassociation.com.
"I went to the last Township Council meeting and told them, 'We're still having problems with Virtua, and nothing has improved,' " he says, adding, "If they can't stop the noise, they should require Virtua to build a sound barrier along Dutchtown Road between us and the hospital."
(Responding by e-mail, the hospital says, "We will speak to the concerns of all of our neighbors and welcome suggestions from any of them. All questions, concerns and ideas are taken seriously and carefully reviewed.")
Says the mayor, "That would be Virtua's decision."
He also notes that "there needs to be a continuing dialogue between Virtua and the Baileys and the township . . . to move toward a resolution of these issues.
"I would like to think we have made a good-faith effort."
Based on what I've seen, I believe they have.
But I'm not living 800 feet from Virtua's loading docks. And I don't have any fond memories of the rural ambience along Dutchtown Road before the hospital was built.
Back then, Robin wistfully recalls, it was Mayberry.