Venice Regional proposed new hospital

This rendering shows a view from the north side of the proposed new Venice Regional Bayfront Health.

A proposed road deal that could clear the way for a new Venice Regional Bayfront Health (VRBH) hospital awaits Board of County Commissioners review.

The board will consider it Tuesday but isn’t required to take action at the first of two required public hearings. The second is set for Jan. 15.

That’s also the date it’s expected to vote on the three land-use petitions VBRH needs approval of in order to build its new facility, east of the Jacaranda roundabout and south of East Venice Avenue.

The board voted last month to send a proposed comprehensive plan amendment to the state for review and approval. The amendment would open the door to rezoning the land to allow a hospital, while a special exception would let VRBH build up to 85 feet.

Four of the five commissioners will need to approve the comp plan amendment for it to be adopted. The other two petitions just need a majority vote.

Extensive testimony at prior public hearings from neighbors who oppose the site focused mainly on traffic concerns. East Venice Avenue from the roundabout east is a two-lane road that they say isn’t adequate to handle current traffic, let alone the volume associated with a hospital.

That led the commissioners to a discussion about VRBH widening the road, which isn’t in the county’s five-year plan.

In October, they deferred making any decisions on the hospital’s petitions to give it and staff time to work out an agreement to that effect. However, the two sides hadn’t come to terms by the time the commission convened in November.

“I think we got it down to two issues,” Assistant County Attorney Alan Roddy said then.

One was the timing of the road improvements but the big one was money.

VRBH said it was agreeable to contributing to the cost of widening and would be willing to front the balance, but would expect to be reimbursed that portion of the cost from mobility fees it would have to pay.

Commission Chair Nancy Detert called that offer a “trial balloon” but she ended up agreeing with her colleagues that they should spell out their expectations more clearly and let the two sides try again.

The agreement up for discussion Tuesday would require VRBH to bear the cost of design, permitting and construction of two more lanes from the roundabout to the easternmost point of access to its site.

The project would include two 11-foot travel lanes with turning lanes; 5-foot-wide bike lanes; a median; a five-foot-wide sidewalk on both sides; roadway lighting; landscaping; and stormwater improvements.

Road construction would have to commence before the issuance of any building permit and be substantially complete before any certificate of occupancy could be issued. Final completion would have to be within 90 days of the issuance. The estimated cost is $5.7 million.

Construction of the hospital and associated medical office building would generate mobility (impact) fees of about $2.5 million, according to a memo from the county’s Planning and Development Services Department.

Because there’s been a split of opinion on the commission about whether VRBH deserves any credit for the fees it will pay, the draft agreement splits them.

The county’s share — about $1,260,000 — would be more than the $730,000 the property would have generated if developed for residential use as originally planned, the memo states. The money was designated for widening River Road.

In a letter to Roddy dated Dec. 4, VRBH attorney Jackson Boone says his client is agreeable to all terms of the agreement except the division of mobility fees.

“Taking into consideration the approximate $6 million in improvements our client will be making to East Venice Avenue, our client believes it is justified to request and receive reimbursement for all mobility fees generated from the proposed development of the subject property, less the approximate $750,000 already pledged for improving River Road,” he wrote.

Staff recommends approval of the draft agreement as is.

In November, Commissioners Al Maio and Mike Moran appeared to be agreeable to some reimbursement of fees while Chair Nancy Detert and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo were opposed.

Caragiulo is no longer on the Commission, however, having chosen not to run for re-election. New Commissioner Christian Ziegler hasn’t been heard on the issue yet.

Detert has other problems with the hospital site, including that there’s no guarantee a hospital will be built on it.

“You’re going to have to go a really long way to get my vote,” she said.

She asked that Roddy research whether it would be possible to provide that if VRBH gets all its approvals but the land isn’t used for a hospital, it would revert to its prior status. The draft agreement has a provision that if construction isn’t begun within three years, VRBH won’t oppose a county effort to restore the current comp plan designation and zoning.

It also provides that if VRBH doesn’t own the property when a certificate of occupancy is applied for, the new owner isn’t entitled to any mobility fee reimbursement.

Bob Moore, the former VRBH CEO overseeing the new hospital effort, has said repeatedly that parent company Community Health Systems is fully behind it with no plans to sell.

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