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For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

County to consider
two new St. Luke’s applications

Hospital wants office building, reduced roadwork commitment


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

County planners are scheduled to revisit two new construction applications from St. Luke’s hospital this week: one to build a 40,000-square-foot medical office building and another to build a three-lane section of highway—rather than a planned five-lane section—adjacent to the new medical complex south of Ketchum.

As a condition to the 1999 permit agreement for the new St. Luke’s hospital, Blaine County required that St. Luke’s build a five-lane section of highway to handle extra traffic generated by the hospital.

Now, St. Luke’s says that requirement should be dropped because of the indefinite postponement of a similar highway expansion throughout the county by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).

Separately, the planned office building, hospital officials say, is necessary to ensure the financial viability of the non-profit St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center.

The Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a special public hearing for tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., at the old Blaine County Courthouse to consider both applications. The meeting will continue previous discussion begun on March 9.

During the meeting on that date, Jeff Hull, representing St. Luke’s, told the P&Z that a 1998 traffic impact study showed increased traffic generated by the new St. Luke’s hospital would only require a three-lane highway. Because of the ITD’s plans to expand Highway 75 to five lanes throughout the valley, however, county commissioners saddled the hospital with a five-lane expansion, Hull said.

The current request to switch back to three lanes is a "technical correction," he contended.

St. Luke’s representatives stressed the hospital’s desire to eventually honor its commitment to expand to five lanes; however, the representatives said, St. Luke’s did not feel compelled to post a bond or financial guarantee for future highway work.

The March 9 P&Z discussion of St. Luke’s application to construct its proposed office building centered on design issues, such as snow storage, fire access, parking and construction materials.

Speakers during public comment, however, questioned the need for the building.

In a written statement, president of Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth, Steven Wolper, reminded the P&Z that St. Luke’s original building permit allows for the construction of added facilities that are "integral" to the hospital’s operation.

"Neither convenient nor commercially profitable meets the definition of integral," Wolper wrote.

Wolper said also that St. Luke’s CEO Jon Moses vacillated months earlier by first telling Blaine County Commissioners the hospital had no immediate plans to construct an office building, then weeks later telling Ketchum officials there was overwhelming demand from the medical community for the building.

In an April 17 statement, however, St. Luke’s public information officer Hilary Furlong said, "Hospital officials expressed surprise at recent efforts to stall the approval of the medical office building."

Plans for a medical office building were identified in a 1995 letter of intent and site planning announcement, the statement said.

 

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