Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Board OKs medical complex

From the Star News

Board OKs medical complex

Development near Pender line could some day include hospital

By Gareth McGrathStaff Writermailto:Writergareth.mcgrath@starnewsonline.com

The New Hanover County Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved plans for a new medical complex, which eventually could include a new hospital, in the northeast portion of the county.But the move wasn't without its critics, with several residents noting the project would add more than 12,000 daily vehicle trips to already congested U.S. 17 and increase potential runoff into some of the county's cleanest waterways.The commissioners, however, said they were confident the developer had done as much as possible to mitigate those concerns.They also said a project that would meet a growing public need was much better than what could potentially go there, since the site eventually would be developed."It could be a whole lot of things less beneficial and with a lot more impacts to the environment," said Commissioner Nancy Pritchett.SENCA Properties, a corporation formed by a group of 105 local doctors, plans to use roughly 50 acres of a 250-acre tract along U.S. 17 near the Pender County line for a New Hanover Regional Medical Center facility and a medical office/retail complex.But residents said the development was too big and too dense for the primarily residential and environmentally sensitive area, which is on the Intracoastal Waterway-side of U.S. 17.Runoff concerns dominated their concerns, with several speakers stating there was little long-term guarantee that the project's stormwater collection system would offer long-term protection to Futch and Foy creeks.The two tidal creeks, areas of which have conservations easements on them, are the cleanest waterways in New Hanover County.But Mike Mallin, a water quality expert with the University of North Carolina Wilmington, has endorsed the series of infiltration systems and wetlands as effectively collecting and treating runoff before it reaches the tidal creeks.Along with stormwater and traffic issues, neighbors also questioned why New Hanover Regional wouldn't build a new medical center on property it already owns less than two miles down Market Street.Beth Steelman, whose family has owned property in the Foy Creek area for two centuries, said the Porters Neck Road area already was a developing medical services, office and retail node.But Jack Barto, chief executive officer of New Hanover Regional, said the Porters Neck parcel was pocketed by wetlands that limited the opportunity to cluster medical offices on any future expansion.He said the hospital would seek to sell that land, and had already received some unsoliticted offers.Barto also said the need for additional medical services was already evident in the fast-growing area, with the hospital probably providing ambulatory services and possibly a standalone emergency room facility before constructing a 60- to 80-bed community hospital in about seven years.Attorney John Wessell also defended the retail component of the project, which several neighbors said wouldn't mesh with the residential character of the area."The idea of retail there is to enhance the ability of people who work there," he said, noting that it wouldn't be a traditional standalone shopping center. "That's all."Due to the site's location in northeastern New Hanover County, the new "Scotts Hill Village" complex would be subject to the moratorium currently in place on Wilmington's troubled Northeast Interceptor sewer line - although the ban on new sewer line connections is expected to be lifted by March 2008.Barto also downplayed any concerns about New Hanover not yet receiving state permission, dubbed a certificate of need, for new hospital beds, stating that the medical center couldn't do so for something it didn't plan to construct for years.Although the five-member board's vote was unanimous, it was 4-0.That's because Commissioner Bobby Greer recused himself, citing his presence on the hospital's Board of Trustees.