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For the week of September 20 through 26, 2000

St. Luke’s sign slips through loophole

P&Z commissioner: ‘We’ve got to be more careful’

St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center "is not listening to people in the county. They’re listening to their donors and to St. Luke’s in Boise."

Tom Bowman, P&Z commission chairman

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County denied the sign one month ago, but St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center planners say they plan to build a 9-by 14-foot brick-and-wood hospital entry marker adjacent to Highway 75 anyway.

St. Luke’s will likely get to build its monument sign due to a loophole in a seven-page document the county planning and zoning commission drafted during several public hearings last month.

The document states St. Luke’s can build its 154-square-foot monument only if the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) refuses to install international blue "H" signs within half a mile north and south of the hospital and suspended from the traffic signal mast arm at the hospital’s south entrance.

P&Z commissioners stated they prefer traditional "H" signs to guide hospital visitors along Highway 75 to the hospital’s entrance because the small, blue signs are less visually intrusive than what St. Luke’s had planned.

But in a Sept. 8 letter to P&Z administrator Deborah Vignes, the ITD stated it will not install an "H" sign from the mast arm because it is not "appropriate."

ITD district traffic engineer Bruce Christensen stated that the department had visited the site and consulted manuals to reach its decision.

Last Thursday, P&Z commissioners admitted they had made a mistake by allowing the loophole and considered reopening the public hearing process to fix the problem. But they decided to let the loophole stand as it is because of potential legal problems that could arise from revisiting the issue.

"We’ve got to be more careful," lamented commissioner Theresa Comber, who decided recently to resign from the commission.

Commissioner Joel Graff, who often votes in favor of St. Luke’s during public hearings, told commissioners that they have to let their original decision stand.

"Now you’re saying you’re not going to accept what you accepted," he admonished them.

Administrator Vignes said Monday she plans to talk to ITD officials to try to get them to change their minds about installing the needed blue "H" signs.

Meanwhile, St. Luke’s is moving forward with plans for building its monument sign.

Last month, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center CEO Jon Moses instructed the Idaho Mountain Express that he and hospital officials would only respond to written questions from the paper due to hospital officials’ time pressures opening the new hospital and because he was concerned about the paper’s accuracy.

But Moses did not respond to an e-mail message from the paper on Monday that asked whether the hospital would alter its sign in light of county planners’ comments about it.

On Monday, St. Luke’s planner John Gaeddert asked the county board of commissioners for approval of an encroachment permit that would allow the monument sign to exist in the public right-of-way adjacent to Highway 75. Commissioners Len Harlig, Mary Ann Mix and Dennis Wright unanimously approved the request.

"We still hope to build [the sign] this year," Gaeddert said.

Responding to St. Luke’s plans to build the monument, commission chairman Tom Bowman said in a telephone interview Monday that St. Luke’s is not sensitive to county residents who, he says, don’t want to see proliferating signs along the highway.

St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center "is not listening to people in the county," he said. "They’re listening to their donors and to St. Luke’s in Boise."

But despite the P&Z’s intentions to prevent the monument, Commissioner Harlig said he voted in favor of the encroachment permit Monday because he wanted to eliminate the possibility of St. Luke’s having to return to the board for the permit if P&Z fails to get blue "H"s installed.

"I don’t see why we should make it any more difficult than necessary for people than it already is," he said.


St. Luke’s brick-and-wood monument sign was one of two signs the P&Z rejected in St. Luke’s proposed package of 10 signs last month. The P&Z commissioners rejected it because county zoning rules only allow one 20-square-foot directional sign and one identification sign.

The P&Z had already granted St. Luke’s a 154-square-foot identification sign at the hospital’s northern entrance.

In addition to the monument, the hospital will feature a 60-square-foot cross logo mounted 40 feet high on the building’s east-facing tower wall, the 154-square-foot monument at the northern entrance and six on-campus directional monuments and wall-mounted signs that will be lit from behind with neon.

On Monday, St. Luke’s and the board of county commissioners reviewed a task list of items that must be completed before the hospital can open its doors to the public in November. Completion of the signs was not a condition of occupancy, according to the list.


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