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For the week of Mar. 15 through Mar. 21, 2000

County P&Z wants second look at medical building

Height, size, economic impact, parking and sprawl are issues


"Sprawl is almost always unintentional." Steven Wolper, Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth

"A matter of minutes can mean the difference between life and death." Tim Floyd, orthopedic surgeon


By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer

After listening to objections from residents who packed the county meeting room in Hailey last Thursday, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission decided to hold a second hearing before deciding on a proposed three-story medical office building.

St. Luke’s hospital officials had asked Blaine County P&Z for permission to construct the 40,000-square-foot building next to its 106,000-square-foot hospital, now under construction at a site one mile south of Ketchum.

The proposed building’s height is 46 feet. The height of the hospital is 47 feet.

The office building would exceed the county’s 40-foot height limit placed on all other zones. The Recreational Development District in which the hospital is being built has no height limit.

According to the planning staff report, the hospital was allowed to build higher because of special mechanical needs.

The hospital has 257 parking spaces. The staff report says the office building is required to have 200 more spaces, although only 120 are proposed, including some in a public right of way.

The office building lies within Ketchum’s zone of impact, an area that may be annexed into the city one day.

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In a March 9 letter to the county, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission listed the following objections to the building:

  • It’s too large and could have negative social and economic impacts on the city if the 27 doctors’ offices it can accommodate are moved from inside the city limits to the new building.

  • Employees in the building could create demand for other businesses in the area, such as restaurants, and add to traffic impacts. Ketchum’s comprehensive plan does not allow commercial uses outside the city core.

  • The building exceeds the city height limit of 35 feet, or 40 feet if underground parking or urban housing units are included.

  • The building may not have adequate parking, adequate snow storage or landscaping.

  • At 30 feet away, the building may be too close to the bike path and "will loom over this public entity."

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Gary Fletcher, St. Luke’s executive vice president for operations, told the P&Z at Thursday’s hearing that a medical office building is needed to efficiently deliver quality care to patients. He said it is common practice to have doctors’ offices and health-related facilities clustered around hospitals.

The building is for doctors who need access to the hospital quickly, and St. Luke’s wants to accommodate them, he said.

Hospital chief of staff Dr. Frank Fiaschetti said up to 18 doctors want to move into the building.

Local orthopedic surgeon Tim Floyd said, "A matter of minutes can mean the difference between life and death."

St. Luke’s representatives suggested that the public indicated support for the medical complex, including the office building, in the 1996 voter referendum in which 90 percent of voters in Blaine County approved consolidation of the valley’s two hospitals into one facility at the site.

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Former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert took part in the drafting of the county’s comprehensive plan in the 1970s. He said that in developing the plan, elected officials were concerned about the McHanville area and didn’t want checkerboard development down Highway 75.

Seiffert questioned the location and size of the medical campus.

"Such a facility should be in an urban complex," he said, "not in a narrow valley with one highway."

Ketchum Area Rapid Transit manager Terry Crawford said the office building will increase service demands and costs.

He said KART is required by federal law to provide van service to passengers with disabilities, including trips to a doctor’s office in Ketchum or within one mile of the city limits. Passengers may reside inside or outside city limits.

Crawford said disabled riders use regular bus service once inside city limits to do other errands—having prescriptions filled and getting groceries, for example—before needing a return trip home on a van. He said medical offices located outside city limits will increase the number of van trips necessary for disabled passengers.

Crawford said KART is frustrated because despite several calls to St. Luke’s, KART had not received a response about the matter.

Attorney Marc McGregor, of Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth, said no one contests the need for a quality health care facility. However, McGregor said, Blaine County voters did not agree to an urban medical complex.

"The problem is finding the balance between that (medical) need and having an urban medical complex in a rural area," McGregor said.

He said there is no evidence the office building complies with county ordinances or the comprehensive plan.

The P&Z, he said, should consider the impact of the medical office building on the rural character of the area and make sure that commercial development is not expanded into unincorporated parts of the county.

McHanville property owner Kim Nilsen said it wasn’t fair to approve St. Luke’s office building while continuing to prohibit commercial development in the area around it.

Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth president Steven Wolper said, "The hospital will not exist in a vacuum. It will affect McHanville."

Added Wolper:

"We’ve heard property owners say they want an office building in McHanville. Sprawl is almost always unintentional. This has the potential to be unintentional sprawl."

P&Z Commissioner Suzanne Orb said the original proposal voters agreed on was a 65,000-square-foot hospital. This figure later grew to the 106,000-square-foot hospital now under construction.

Orb asked why the 106,000 square-foot hospital couldn’t accommodate medical offices also.

Jeff Hull, St. Luke’s director of architecture and construction, said the original 65,000-square-foot proposal would only meet the minimal needs of the valley. Hull said that as St. Luke’s looked into that number, the hospital grew to meet future needs.

Hull said there is no space available in the hospital for doctors’ offices

He said the size of the proposed medical office building is the result of the number of physicians in the valley who want to have offices next to the hospital.

Hull offered no rationale for the building height except to say the county has no limit in the zone.

Sun Valley resident and Ketchum businessman Tim Eagan expressed concern over the economic impact on the rest of the valley that may result if doctors vacate offices in Ketchum and Hailey.

"There should be some consideration of the impact on Hailey and Ketchum," Eagan said. "There’s a lot of space to fill in a 40,000-square-foot office building. It’s going to have a huge impact."

The P&Z will revisit the medical office building plan on April 20 at the old County Courthouse in Hailey at 6:30 p.m.

 

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