County planning panel gives approval to rezoning request by medical center

Subdivision trustee contends Stenger not helping citizens.

By EVAN YOUNG

St. Anthony’s Medical Center received unanimous approval last week from the county Planning Commission on a rezoning request that will ready its campus for future expansion.

The matter next will go before the County Council.

Commissioners voted May 24 to approve the medical center’s request to rezone nearly 104 acres along Kennerly and Tesson Ferry roads in Concord to an all-commercial district from a mix of residential and commercial districts. The rezoning allows the center to proceed with what it contends is a 25-year master plan to add new medical offices, parking and other facilities.

In a statement, hospital officials said they were “pleased to have received a unanimous vote … on our request to zone our property as commercial. This will allow us to plan for growth over the next 25 years, so that we may respond to community need for health care services.”

But last week’s vote upset residents of Nottinghill subdivision, located directly north of St. Anthony’s campus, who’ve been fighting to keep the medical center from expanding up to their property lines.

The hospital’s master plan calls for the construction of a parking garage, parking lots and a four-story medical office building within a roughly 15-acre stretch of land between Nottinghill and Sunset Drive. The land is zoned residential, and the subdivision wants to keep it that way, fearing a drop in their homes’ values if the development goes through.

The Planning Commission previously postponed a decision on the hospital’s request and asked St. Anthony’s to consider changing its plan so that no building or parking structure would be constructed in those 15 acres.

The hospital subsequently submitted a revised site plan that:

• Reduces the size of the proposed parking garage from a five-story, 346,756 square feet structure to a three-story, 105,000 square foot structure and increases its setback from the Nottinghill boundary to 175 feet from 120 feet.

• Increases the setback of a four-story medical office building and conference center from the Nottinghill boundary to 100 feet from 50 feet.

• Increases the setback of surface parking lots from the Nottinghill boundary to 50 feet from 20 feet.

• Eliminates a 20,000-square-foot central utility plant that would’ve been built 95 feet from the Nottinghill boundary.

• Increases the amount of buffer between the subdivision and St. Anthony’s property, including a six-foot high sight proof fence, berm and “heavy landscaping” on both sides of the fence.

• Limits the height of parking lot lights located within 200 feet of the Nottinghill boundary to 16 feet, which is the standard for subdivisions.

Nottinghill residents, however, say they’re not satisfied with the changes.

Trustee Joe Rottman told the Call the subdivision has retained an attorney who’s handled zoning litigation to “carry the ball for us.”

“We were, as a community, quite disappointed with the vote. What was perhaps most disappointing was that the proposal only changed slightly, yet the vote changed considerably,” Rottman said, and added, “I agree that St. Anthony’s has a right to do what they want with their property up to a point. But they really are not making much effort to be a good neighbor.”

Nottinghill residents last month met with 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-south county, and sought his help to oppose St. Anthony’s plans.

Stenger told them he would take their concerns to county and hospital officials and try to reach a compromise.

Rottman, however, contends the councilman hasn’t done much since to help.

“We’re disappointed in the fact that Stenger doesn’t seem to be that interested in representing us despite his assurances at that meeting,” he said. “He looked me in the eye, shook my hand and said he was going to fight this. But … I’m not sure how on-board he is.”

But Stenger told the Call he’s been “very involved” in working with the medical center on adjusting its plan. The removal of the proposed central utility plant and the addition of site-proof fencing, for example, were done at his behest, Stenger said.

“I did as much negotiating as I could, more than what the planning commission and planning department would want,” he said. “I’ve maxed out what the hospital is going to do voluntarily. I’ve left nothing on the table.”

Stenger has said he would be outvoted on the council if he simply opposed St. Anthony’s request altogether.

However, if for some reason the request didn’t pass through the council, hospital officials have indicated to Stenger they may build a four to five-story retirement complex in the 15-acre plot behind Nottinghill as an “alternative development,” he said.

“Bottom line is, the alternative is much worse,” Stenger said, contending residents would experience more traffic and noise with the retirement complex.

Tess Niehaus, vice president of marketing and communications at St. Anthony’s, denied the medical center was considering such a project.

“I have no knowledge of plans to build a retirement community of any size,” she said. “We are not in the retirement community business.”