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City planners OK height for new Pooler hospital

Subheadline: 
St. Joseph's/Candler CEO, officials ready to start building five-story $62 million complex

Developers preparing for a new “micro hospital” on the south side of Pooler Parkway requested variances this week to let them exceed the city’s height limits on buildings and signs.

According to applications submitted to the city of Pooler, the variances are needed by the prospective buyer of an 18-acre property at the corner of the parkway and Cabernet Drive: St. Joseph’s/Candler. Last month, the health system announced plans to develop a medical facility in Pooler, which is expected to be built in three phases over the next decade.

During a meeting Monday of the Pooler Planning & Zoning Board, the three present members voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council OK the request for a variance to exceed the city’s maximum allowed building height in heavy commercial areas by 37 feet. The planning commissioners also signed off on a request from the LLC to exceed sign height limits by 5 feet and sign face size requirements by 150 square feet.

City Attorney Steve Scheer said this week that because there were not enough members to constitute a quorum of the planning commission, the actions of the three attending planning commissioners are technically not valid. That means the variances are now headed to the Pooler City Council for review at its March 20 meeting with no recommendation.

Under city rules, however, anything that emerges from the planning board without a recommendation is deemed a recommendation for approval, Scheer said.

Regardless, Mayor Mike Lamb, who attended the planning commission’s meeting Monday, said he didn’t have a problem with what was being requested.

“My thing is, to have something like this come to our city is great,” Lamb said Tuesday. “This is an important facility that is coming in. That’s why I think it was right to give the variance.”

If approved by council next week, the building height variance will allow for the new medical complex to reach a maximum height of 82 feet, or five stories. Jim Kolb, an architect with Jacksonville-based Gresham, Smith and Partners, the firm hired to design the facility, said one reason for the additional height is the need to house large mechanical equipment on some floors.

In addition, Kolb said, vertical construction allows for quicker transport of patients, because it shortens the distance from one area of the hospital to another.

The sign variances, meanwhile, are needed because the property fronts Pooler Parkway, where the speed limit is 45 to 50 mph, Kolb said. A 35-foot high sign with 500-square-foot sign face would improve visibility of the multi-tenant complex for people in a rush to find the facility from the parkway.

St. Joseph’s/Candler CEO Paul Hinchey said Monday that, without the variances, the health system wouldn’t be able to complete its purchase of the property.

“We are eager to close on the purchase of this land at the end of the month so we can get started on planning for Phase 1, so we can get a shovel in the ground and start building it as soon as possible,” he said. “Given how rapidly health care is changing and how fast Pooler is growing, it’s vitally important in our mind that we plan for that future growth.”

Hinchey said that ultimately the Pooler facility will be 170,000 square feet in size and employ roughly 100 people. The cost to build out all three phases will be about $62 million. Phase 1 of the project — a 61,000-square-foot facility being built at a cost of $21 million — is expected to be complete in early 2019.

That phase will include space for primary care, urgent care, specialty care, two operating rooms for outpatient surgery, endoscopy, imaging, physical therapy, pharmacy, lab and also room for community education, Hinchey said.

“Our goal is to have this campus become the medical hub for this part of our area,” Hinchey said. “The facilities and the infrastructure are relatively complex. In order to address the regulatory requirements that we live under, that’s why we’re here today.”

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