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For the week of May 24 through May 30, 2000

P&Z denies St. Luke’s medical office building

Hospital appeal or area rezone possible


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"Denying the presence of physician offices from a hospital campus is incongruous and defies common sense."

Jon Moses, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center CEO.


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

After nearly 14 hours of deliberations during a series of four meetings, the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission last Thursday denied St. Luke’s application to build a 40,000-square-foot medical office building next to its nearly completed hospital south of Ketchum.

Hospital officials said at the meeting’s end that they were "disappointed" with the ruling.

Bill Bodner, a top St. Luke’s official at its Boise headquarters, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday the hospital corporation might "seek legal remedies."

Bodner, vice president in charge of corporate development, declined to say whether the hospital would appeal the P&Z decision to the county board of commissioners. St. Luke’s has more than a month to file an appeal.

St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center CEO Jon Moses also declined to say whether St. Luke’s would appeal the P&Z decision, which came on a 5-1 vote.

Moses said, however, in a Monday telephone conservation that St. Luke’s would not apply to construct a smaller office building.

Also, Moses suggested the P&Z decision had been influenced by an Idaho Mountain Express report of St. Luke’s preliminary plans to build a third structure that would house a day-care center on the site.

Moses claimed the Mountain Express had strategically released the story last Wednesday to influence the Thursday P&Z meeting.

"What happened last week was intentional," he said, apparently referring to the story’s timing.

"It’s news to us," responded Pam Morris, the newspaper’s publisher.

In a one-and-a-half-page written statement released yesterday, Moses said he was "concerned about the negative impact" of the denial.

Moses again emphasized the financial necessity of the office building.

"[W]e are concerned that this decision may impede our ability to fulfill our commitment to operate the type of quality-oriented and fiscally sound medical center that is typical of St. Luke’s," Moses wrote. "Denying the presence of physician offices from a hospital campus is incongruous and defies common sense."

Despite St. Luke’s claims that its new hospital would not be financially viable without an adjacent office building, county P&Z members said they were prohibited by state law from making a ruling based on financial considerations.

During the meeting on the application Thursday, P&Z members said that, in principle, they were in favor of St. Luke’s building the office structure. However, they said, they were obliged to consider whether the proposed building met the requirements laid out in a series of existing land-use standards. It didn’t, according to the P&Z.

P&Z’s goal Thursday was to work through the long series of land-use criteria, chairman Tom Bowman said at the beginning of the meeting. Therefore, no new presentation was allowed from St. Luke’s.

Included in the criteria were items that asked P&Z members to consider whether the building would be "harmonious" with the objectives of the county’s comprehensive plan, whether the building would "change the essential character of the area" and whether it would create "interference" by adding to the traffic on surrounding thoroughfares.

Bowman said the P&Z would have to make a positive finding on all criteria—there were nine on the list—to give approval.

Commissioners said they voted "no" mostly because of the proposed building’s large size.

Commissioner Joel Graff, who also said the building was too large, nevertheless voted in favor of the application.

Because the proposed building was too large, it had unresolved snow-storage and parking problems, county officials said. Officials also said they were unsure of the impact the building would have on traffic entering and exiting Highway 75.

"I think we tried to make it work," Bowman said during an interview after the meeting. But, he added, "St. Luke’s didn’t articulate the rationale for the size of the building."

P&Z chairman Bowman, suggested to St. Luke’s officials that they refrain from appealing because the zoning in the hospital area could change soon so it can be allowed at 40,000 square feet "or even larger."

The current Recreational Development zone in the medical complex area makes getting approval for office building projects difficult because the zone is meant to guide development related to recreation, P&Z administrator Deborah Vignes said during a telephone interview on Friday.

New zoning would likely be aimed at allowing high-density residential and medically related uses, Vignes said.

Vignes disclosed that county staff, elected officials and owners of property around the medical complex site began meeting April 18 to hash out the details of the potential rezone.

Vignes called the three meetings that have taken place so far "informal workshops," adding: "Obviously, this all has to go through the public hearing process."

Although Vignes was reluctant to predict the timeline for the rezone, she characterized it as a "top planning issue for the county" that could take from four months to a year and half to accomplish.

 

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