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Hospital concept for Centennial and Fillmore gets Planning Commission thumbs-up

Jamie Smith, the chief administrative officer for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, addresses the City Planning Commission during the public hearing Oct. 15.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
A proposed Penrose-St. Francis hospital complex northeast of Centennial Boulevard and Fillmore Street took a step forward with three unanimous votes from the City Planning Commission after a public hearing Oct. 15.
       However, a groundbreaking is far from imminent on the 51-acre site. Jamie Smith, the chief administrative officer for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, told the commission that he does not expect the facility to be built for five to seven more years.
       About three of those years will be needed for additional studies and reviews, he explained - especially to come to grips with such issues as historical ground instability, drainage control and mitigating the impact of a main building that could rise as high as 200 feet and 12 stories.
       The complex would become Penrose-St. Francis' third hospital “campus” in Colorado Springs. Another is north of downtown, off North Cascade Avenue; the most recent facility is in the Briargate area.
       The three commission votes specifically gave approval to a zone change allowing planned unit development (PUD), a concept plan showing basic development intentions and an amendment to the Hill Properties
Part of the Penrose-St. Francis presentation at Planning Commission included an explanation of why a new hospital location is needed. This slide discussed the "dilemma" of the current location off North Cascade Avenue.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
Master Plan (which encompasses a roughly 2-by-3-mile area of the Mesa, dating back many years to when the Hill family owned it all).
       Under municipal law, City Council will get the final say on the zone change - probably at a meeting in November.
       Currently undeveloped, the property is known as “Turtle Creek.” It's located across Centennial from the Grandview Market Place shopping center.
       A PUD zone allows flexibility based on a given site and a developer's wishes. In the case of Turtle Creek, the PUD would allow up to 200 feet in height, although Smith noted at the meeting that the tallest planned building - the hospital itself - would only be 140 feet initially, and might never be added onto. There would also be two 65-foot office buildings, the concept plan shows.
       The current Turtle Creek zone, approved a year ago for a combination of commercial and industrial, prescribes a height maximum of 45 feet.
       The commission's zone change vote includes a stipulation that any development plan that gets submitted for a building
Rhona Fletcher, who lives in an area just north of (and downhill from) the proposed Penrose-St. Francis Hospital site, reminded the Planning Commission that her neighborhood has suffered from landslides in the past and wanted to be sure that the location's history of geologic instability is not forgotten.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
taller than 65 feet will trigger another public hearing before the commission.
       Members also urged that the developer, which has not yet hosted a neighborhood meeting, do so as part of improving communications with people who live in the area - some of whom spoke against the project at the commission meeting.
       The Planning Commission is an unpaid review board appointed by City Council.
       The public hearing included considerable discussion about the development's rationale and its potential impacts. Smith related that Penrose-St. Francis started looking to expand in central Colorado Springs in recent years because “all our service areas are growing rapidly,” but the North Cascade site, surrounded by an established neighborhood, has no more room. In addition, the local hospital company wants to position itself to serve more people from outside the area (as an example, Smith said that over a third of its heart patients are not from the Springs).
       So hospital officials brainstormed a new plan - to keep a number of outpatient services at North Cascade, but to find a vacant site not too far away at which a new “inpatient” hospital could be built from the ground up, he outlined. After a “very exhaustive search,” Centennial/Fillmore was chosen, Smith said, adding that, in terms of ranking, the location
Planning Commission member Chuck Donley speaks optimistically about the Penrose-St. Francis hospital plan for Centennial and Fillmore. Listening is fellow commission member Sherrie Gibson, who also joined the unanimous votes in favor.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
“truly was number 1, 2 and 3 for us. So there are not a lot of other options, as we see it, so we want to do what we possibly can to make it work and make the city proud of what we do.”
       Three of the five citizens who spoke in opposition at the hearing have homes at the base of a steep hill just north of the Turtle Creek property, which has been been plagued by landslides, most severely in 1997. Rhona Fletcher, who said she was speaking on behalf of such residents, cited a Colorado Geologic Survey (CGS) study this year noting “undocumented fill” in that area; she also said that she and fellow residents believe that “a construction of this magnitude could have disastrous consequences for this neighborhood.”
       Fletcher also complained about potential noise from helicopters (which are used for some hospital emergencies) and from increased traffic. Similar concerns, as well as a belief that such a tall building on the mesa will be unattractive and block views, were expressed by two residents of the Kissing Camels area to the west.
       The geologic question marks are not unknown to the city or Penrose-St. Francis. Under the terms of the approvals,
A concept plan shows the proposed Penrose-St. Francis Health Services campus northeast of Fillmore Street and Centennial Boulevard. The area shown as "PBC Zone District" at lower left is the Grandview Market Place shopping center anchored by King Soopers. North of that, also on the west side of Centennial, are office buildings, mostly medical in nature. The "landscape zones" shown on the proposed hospital site are intended to buffer it from existing uses to the north (homes) and east and south (industrial).
Courtesy of RTA Architects
a geologic hazard report - more detailed than the report required for this stage of the process - will be necessary on any development plans for the hospital structure and for the parking zones north and east of it.
       A preliminary traffic study shows that the roads in that area can handle the added traffic, according to the city. Also, a city extension of Centennial Boulevard from Fillmore Street to the Fontanero/I-25 interchange - planned for 2017 - should relieve some of the traffic on Fillmore, city engineers have previously said.
       As for building design and view blockage, the city has no legal power over either of those aspects, city officials at the meeting explained.
       Smith offered assurances that Penrose-St. Francis will do its utmost to build a quality structure, saying the goal is to have it last 100 years. “Why in the world would we want to put in a 100-year building where it's not geotechnically sound and so forth?” he said. “We share those concerns and we're going to mitigate them, and if we find through due diligence process that they can't be mitigated, we have a decision to make.”
       In comments just before the votes, Commissioner Chuck Donley predicted good things. “It's very important to our community that we maintain these [hospital] facilities in proximity to the downtown, and I think it is going to be a boon to this immediate neighborhood,” he said. “Tremendous change is going to come out of this magnet of activity from this particular facility, and I don't think we're going to recognize this neighborhood 30 years from now. It's going to be totally different, and I think it's going to be a plus for the city.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 10/19/15; Land: Development Proposals)

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