If neighbor opposition is making the approval of a site for a new Venice Regional Bayfront Health a battle, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s first step toward a new facility of its own was a lovefest.

Attorney Dan Bailey, accompanied by SMH CEO David Verinder and Sharon Roush, president of Sarasota Memorial-Laurel Road, appeared before the Venice City Council Tuesday seeking relief from an apparent limit on the hew hospital’s height.

The 2002 pre-annexation agreement that brought the proposed site at the southeast corner of the Laurel Road/Pinebrook Road intersection into the city provides that development on the 65-acre site must conform to Venetian Gateway Overlay District standards for architecture and signs.

Although the underlying zoning has a height limit of 85 feet, the Gateway standards have a limit of 35 feet and mandate small windows. Both would inhibit the development of a state-of-the-art hospital, Bailey said.

The best design for a hospital, he said, is to stack patient areas so transport is from floor to floor by elevator rather than down long hallways.

And a floor in a hospital is taller than a floor in another commercial building, he said, because of the equipment space needed above the ceiling, so a five-story hospital could hit the 85-foot height limit.

Amending the agreement to provide that the 35-foot limit wouldn’t apply to a hospital or related medical buildings would open the door to later approval of a facility at the height it plans to build but not commit the city to it, Bailey said.

The limitations on windows would preclude large ones that let in natural light and offer patients a view of the outdoors, he said.

The Council quickly reached agreement on granting the hospital’s request, and on another request Bailey made — to allow SMH to pursue other permits related to developing the property at its own risk, even before getting a rezoning or a site-and-development plan approved.

Development Services Director Jeff Shrum said it could take as long as seven months to get those approvals. Allowing the hospital to get permits for land clearing and soil testing would speed the process and possibly keep it on target to begin construction in the spring.

Bailey said that SMH would be willing to give the city a bond so that if it installed footers in a location that later wasn’t approved, relocation would be covered.

It also will be getting an independent review of its plan for certification to the city, which will reduce the level of review the city will need to conduct, Bailey said.

Shrum said his office will be using SMH to develop a process for dealing with similar requests in the future.

Vice Mayor Bob Daniels’ recommendation that city staff do whatever it can to get SMH’s project going was echoed by his colleagues.

Shrum said that time frames in the code will ultimately control which permits get issued when.

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