After three County Commission meetings spanning more than two months, Venice Regional Bayfront Health (VRBH) claimed a small victory Wednesday in its pursuit of a site for a new hospital.
But it’s still more than two months away from a final decision.
The commission voted unanimously to send the hospital’s proposed comprehensive plan amendment to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for a mandatory review. The amendment would open the door to putting a hospital on the site, which was planned for residential development.
It’s expected the amendment will be back with comments in time for the Commission to vote on it in January. It would need a “yes” vote from four of the five commissioners to be adopted. The site is dead if the amendment is voted down.
And the amendment is only one of four approvals VRBH needs for its intended site, just south of East Venice Avenue east of the Jacaranda roundabout. Petitions for rezoning and a special exception to exceed the height limit are also pending a January vote.
The fourth approval would be of a developer’s agreement between VRBH and the county regarding the widening of East Venice Avenue from the roundabout to the eastern boundary of its site.
Owners of neighboring properties came out in force to two prior Commission meetings to oppose putting a hospital in their area. The fact that East Venice Avenue is only two lanes and isn’t in the county’s five-year plan for widening was their major, but not only concern.
The Commission deferred making a decision last month in order to give VRBH and county staff a chance to work out an agreement for widening the road.
“I think we got it down to two issues,” Assistant County Attorney Alan Roddy said.
One is the timing of the road improvements but the big one is money.
VRBH has said it would make a contribution to the estimated $2.8 million cost of widening and would be willing to front whatever the balance would be, but would expect to be reimbursed from mobility fees it would have to pay.
Commission Chair Nancy Detert said she considered that offer a “trial balloon” and chastised the hospital for not getting a deal done.
“They had every opportunity to come to an agreement on the roads and they did not,” she said. “Last time we were perfectly clear on what we wanted.”
But Commissioner Charles Hines suggested maybe the commissioners hadn’t actually spelled out their expectations to staff.
“They’re trying to read the tea leaves of what’s in the mind of each of us individually,” he said.
So he and his colleagues stated what they’re looking for from the hospital.
“I think they should pay the cost,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said.
Having chosen not to run for re-election, however, he won’t be on the Commission when the hospital project comes back up.
Hines said that if the property had been developed residentially, there’d be no need to widen East Venice Avenue now and the mobility fees the development would pay could be used to widen River Road,
“All this is being caused because this is where they [VRBH] chose to go,” he said.
Detert listed a number of issues she has with the project, including that there’s no guarantee a hospital will be built on the site. Local VRBH officials can give assurances, she said, but “the decider’s in Tennessee,” where parent company Community Health Systems is based.
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.
Even then, she indicated that she’s likely to oppose the site.
“You’re going to have to go a really long way to get my vote,” she said.
Commissioners Al Maio, who just won re-election, and Mike Moran appear to be leaning toward approval.
Maio said the amount of mobility fees the hospital would pay would be more than the county would have gotten, so he could support the hospital being reimbursed the difference.
Because the meeting was being held a day after county voters approved a charter change to single-member districts, Moran noted that the mobility fee issue isn’t a direct concern of his constituents in Siesta Key.
But he also said that the new hospital would “bring massive tax revenue” to the county.
Its actual impact isn’t known, he said, and the county “can’t put fixing public infrastructure on private business.”
The Commission voted to schedule a public hearing for Dec. 11 to consider a developer’s agreement, if staff and VRBH can come to terms by then.
A second public hearing would be set for January, along with the other hospital matters.