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For the week of August 23 through 29, 2000

P&Z approves unlit St. Luke’s cross

Altered sign package

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a sign package for the new St. Luke’s medical development south of Ketchum after making several revisions to the plan.

During a three-hour meeting at the old Blaine County Courthouse on Thursday, the commissioners eliminated two of the 10 signs St. Luke’s had proposed as a "way-finding system" for its new hospital during a July 27 public hearing. Commissioners also considered increasing the height and altering the text of some signs.

Following P&Z criticism during the July 27 meeting, St. Luke’s planners said they would eliminate internal lighting for some of the signs and instead illuminate them with external bulbs directed at the lettering from within an over-hanging eve.

"All signs will be lit from above, not backlit," St. Luke’s chief architectural planner Jeff Hull said.

A 53-square-foot, aluminum, wall-mounted sign at the building entrance that reads "St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center" will be lit from behind so that it has a blue glowing halo. St. Luke’s officials said the sign will be turned off every night after visiting hours end—usually around 9 p.m.

During a telephone conversation after the meeting, commission chairman Tom Bowman said even though the light source is inside the sign, he does not consider it internally lit because the sign is opaque.

St. Luke’s representatives also said also they would reduce the "urban feel" of some signs by decreasing their bulk.

The two eliminated signs include a cross logo hospital planners had designed for the building’s south-facing facade and a nearly 9-foot-tall, 11- to 14-foot-wide brick-and-wood monument-like sign at the center’s south entrance.

The six commissioners, however, unanimously approved one, unlit, brushed aluminum, 60-square-foot cross logo mounted nearly 40 feet high on the building’s eastern facade.

The commission rejected the monument-like sign at the south entrance with a tie vote. Commissioners Suzanne Orb, Lynette Drewien and Tom Bowman voted against the sign.

A similar sign at the northern entrance to the hospital gained approval with a four-to-two vote, commissioners Joel Graff and Lynette Drewien voting against.

The commissioners unanimously approved the remaining six signs, including a 21-square-foot, wall-mounted emergency room banner-like sign and on-campus directional monuments.

The P&Z also approved a sign for a medical office building it recently denied. St. Luke’s will be allowed to build the sign only if a current appeal of the office building decision to the board of county commissioners is successful.

St. Luke’s chief planner, John Gaeddert, said he felt a "gut wrench" when chairman Bowman suggested St. Luke’s change the words "medical center" to "hospital" on the entry sign north of the hospital. The commission eventually voted to approve the change.

The word "hospital," Bowman said, is more easily recognized by locals and foreign tourists alike than "medical center."

"What is a medical center?" he asked, "a collection of teachers and students?"

Hospital CEO Jon Moses told the meeting the elimination of the south entrance sign "got under my craw."

The commission disallowed the sign with a tie vote because it is not "effectively a directive sign," commissioner Suzanne Orb said in her motion to deny. Rather, it was an "identification" sign, she said.

What relevance that had to the commission’s approval or disapproval was unclear. But chairman Bowman said directional signs are "never on top of where you have to make a decision," as he claimed the south entrance monument-like sign was.

"I’m afraid if we have a sign [at the south entrance], we’re not going to be able to show our faces in this county," he said.

County rules allow only one 20-square-foot sign per business in the area where St. Luke’s is building its hospital, because the area is zoned for recreational development.

According to county planning rules, the P&Z could only grant an exception to the 20-square-foot rule if St. Luke’s showed that physical limitations of its building site—not self-imposed conditions—create an undue hardship that makes the expanded sign plan necessary.

During the meeting, chairman Bowman said, "the hardship is that the sign ordinance didn’t anticipate this size building when it was written in 1977."

St. Luke’s planner Gaeddert said St. Luke’s had two hardships: there is no direct access from the highway; and there are two different traffic speeds in the area.

The commission agreed to allow the south entrance monument sign, located adjacent to the highway directly above the bike path tunnel, in the event that the Idaho Transportation Department fails to install traditional blue "H" and other directional signs.

Other positive findings the commission had to make before approving the package included determining whether it conflicts with the public interest, whether it is detrimental to the public health, whether it effects a change in zoning and whether it is injurious to the property of others.

Before deciding that St. Luke’s could not derive a reasonable use of its land without approval of the package, chairman Bowman said, "I think we’ve made a finding that the county is basically in partnership with this hospital."


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