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For the week of August 2 through 8, 2000

St. Luke’s chief architectural planner Jeff Hull, right, told commissioners the hospital’s sign package will help people locate the facility, which is "very well screened" from Highway 75. Planning and Zoning commissioners Jerry Allred and Theresa Comber, left, look on. Express photo by David N. Seelig

St. Luke’s presents ‘way-finding system’

P&Z criticizes ‘urban signs’

"These are very urban signs, and you’re not in an urban setting here."

Commissioner Theresa Comber

Express Staff Writer

Planners for St. Luke’s new hospital south of Ketchum once again Thursday night struggled with the vagaries of trying to build a major medical facility in an area zoned for recreational uses when they sought county P&Z approval for a sign package.

St. Luke’s chief of architectural planning, Jeff Hull, told commissioners the hospital needs 10 internally illuminated or backlit signs totaling some 367 square feet to provide a foolproof "way-finding system" for hospital visitors and patients.

But county zoning rules allow only one unlit, or indirectly lit, sign no larger than 20 square feet per business in the area.

For commissioners to grant an exception to that rule, St. Luke’s must show that physical characteristics of its hospital site create an undue hardship. For reasons that were unclear, St. Luke’s made little or no mention of hardship, but rather focused on what it feels is the absolute necessity of its proposed signs.

St. Luke’s planner John Gaeddert told commissioners that the exception—called a variance—appears to be the only tool available to get the signs approved, but they "would be willing to use any vehicle the county could suggest."

Commissioners, too, steered clear of the "undue hardship" issue. They questioned the necessity of two 60- to 75-square-foot backlit corporate cross logos St. Luke’s plans to mount near the top of the hospital’s 40-foot-high south and east facades.

Commissioners were also critical of the signs’ internal illumination and of plans to locate some of the signs adjacent to Highway 75, which is an area reserved for public traffic signs.

Commissioner Theresa Comber said, "These are very urban signs, and you’re not in an urban setting here."

Reaching a final agreement on the sign plan will require "a balance between public needs and a rural community," said commission chair Suzanne Orb.

After more than two hours, commissioners postponed more discussion of the issue until 6:30 p.m., Aug. 17, at the old Blaine County Courthouse.

St. Luke’s will need to gain approval of its package and build the signs before the hospital’s planned opening in December.

Planner Hull said the signs are needed for the hospital to be licensed by the Joint Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

The licensing exempts the hospital from state inspections and is also a status symbol. The licensing organization, Hull said, lays out guidelines for hospital signs, and its accreditation process begins with inspectors "trying to find the hospital."

Regardless of the need to meet those guidelines, Hull set off a round of laughter when he said the hospital is "very well screened" from Highway 75, and that people will need highly visible signs to find the facility.

St. Luke’s officials said their sign plan is justified because they are trying to prevent "one bad outcome" that could result from a patient getting lost.

"Approval of the sign package would not be setting a precedent," Gaeddert said. "We have a true public safety use."

"We’re not like a gas station trying to promote a corporate image," Hull said.

Commissioners agreed that many of the proposed signs, if not in their current large, backlit form, were needed for a safe hospital. But nobody, except those associated with St. Luke’s, liked the idea of the large, glowing cross logos.

When asked what role the logos will play in the way-finding system, Hull said, "that’s a good question." In bad weather, he said, they would help make the hospital visible from far away.

Will Storey, chair of the Community Council—a hospital governing body that will become the new St. Luke’s board of directors in the Wood River Valley in December—offered another role. The signs, he said, would promote a "spirit of volunteerism and a spirit of quality—the logo symbolizes that."

"Do we need it?" he asked. "No…but I would be embarrassed if we say, ‘You can’t use your symbol.’"

Jay Coleman of Bellevue, speaking during the public comment session, said the problem goes deeper than just the sign package currently on the table.

"We still do not know the whole picture of St. Luke’s at McHanville," he said.

"This St. Luke’s application has been nothing but a series of piecemeal exceptions. Add the exceptions up and you’ve got a de facto rezone without the benefit of a public hearing."


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