Council votes in support of hospital rezoning

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — After a three-hour discussion about the appropriate use for land located on the northeast corner of Alfred Street and Old 63, City Council voted 5-2 in favor of rezoning the land for a long-term acute care hospital Monday night.

Landmark Hospital would be a 32,000-square-foot, single-story facility with 42 beds.

“We are trying to promote quality infill,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said, who voted in favor of the rezoning.

Despite much opposition from residents of the Country Club Estates neighborhood, Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said he thinks the land was inappropriate for residential use and that the hospital was a good use. First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz echoed this, saying there would be a good buffer between the residential area and the hospital. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser agreed.

“I can’t see why this wouldn’t be an appropriate place,” she said. “Over time it will become a standard and people will grow to accept it.”

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe voted against the rezoning. Skala said that although he originally favored the rezoning, after talking to residents, he changed his mind.

“This is the only way I can maintain connection with people that live there,” Skala said.

Hoppe said that she thought the land should remain residential. “We value this whole area and think it’s a great residential area.”

The land that would house the hospital is owned by the Berry McAlester Estate. The McAlester Estate owns other properties in the area, and many of the Country Club Estates neighbors expressed apprehension that these properties would also become rezoned for office or commercial use rather than developed residentially, in the future.

The neighborhood concerns also centered around what kind of impact the effects of normal hospital operations, such as traffic or light emission, would have on the neighborhood.

“The question is not if we need the facility or the economic impact,” said Bob Hutton, Country Club Estates Neighborhood Association member before the hearing. “The question is if it fits in our neighborhood.”

To cut down on some of these effects, the council amended the development plan to shorten light poles to 20 feet and to encourage developers to use building materials that would control noise.

Skip Walther, an attorney representing Landmark Hospital, said there are several benefits to the facility. About 120 full-time and 30 part-time jobs will be created. In addition, the water main that serves the neighborhood will be upgraded from a 6-inch line to a 12-inch line, with Landmark financing part of the improvement.

At the April 21 public hearing, City Council tabled the rezoning pending the results of a traffic study commissioned by Country Club Estates resident Eric Seaman, who was worried about possible traffic issues. The study was conducted by Crawford, Bunte, Brammier Traffic and Transportation Engineers and found that no off-site improvements were needed to accommodate the hospital and that traffic flow would not be an issue.

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