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Height variances for new St. Joseph’s/Candler micro hospital cleared by Pooler officials

The Pooler City Council this week removed one of the last obstacles impeding the St. Joseph’s/Candler health system’s purchase of about 18 acres of land on Pooler Parkway to house a new “micro hospital” on the west side of Chatham County.

In two unanimous votes Monday, Pooler council members signed off on variances for the height of the forthcoming health complex, as well as size and height variances for the facility’s future principal sign.

Their vote will allow for the health care system to build the micro hospital to a height of up to 82 feet — exceeding city regulations by 37 feet — and a 500-square-foot, 35-foot-tall sign. City code typically limits sign heights in heavy commercial zones to 30 feet, with the square footage limited to 350 square feet.

Representatives of the hospital system have argued the building height is needed to meet regulatory requirements for such a facility. The additional sign height and size, meanwhile, will aid the public in locating the medical complex while traveling on the parkway, said Jim Kolb of Gresham, Smith and Partners, the designer of the project, during an explanation of the variance request this week.

Although some were still leery about adding another large sign on Pooler Parkway — resident T.C. Williams said during a planning commission hearing on the variance last week that without a description, he feared the principal sign could prove distracting to passing motorists — Pooler Mayor Mike Lamb has defended the request as a necessary piece of an important project.

“I envision a sign that’s got what it is in big letters so you can see it when you’re coming down from (Interstate 16),” Lamb said after the hearing last week.

With the variances now approved, St. Joseph’s/Candler can move ahead with purchasing the undeveloped land meant to house the new medical facility. Paul P. Hinchey, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler, told the council he expects to close on the property at the end of the month, after which planning for the first phase of the medical complex will begin.

Included in the first phase, he said, will be a 61,000 square foot facility that houses primary care, urgent care, specialty care, two operating rooms for outpatient surgery, endoscopy, imaging, physical therapy, a pharmacy, lab and space for community education.

Completion of Phase 1 could be complete by early 2019 and is expected to cost $21 million.

Ultimately, the Pooler campus will be 170,000 square feet and will employ about 100 people, Hinchey said. The total cost for the facility, which is being built in three phases, is an estimated $62 million.

When complete, Hinchey said he expects the new facility to serve patients from the existing Candler facility, patients from the Statesboro area who are currently treated in Bluffton, and residents who come to the area as growth in west Chatham and the surrounding counties continues.

In other business, the City Council:

• Approved the site plan for Rushing Mini-Warehouses at 35 Coleman Blvd., contingent upon all remaining engineering comments for the project being addressed.

• Tabled a revision to the master plan for the Forest Lakes subdivision that would allow for developers to construct an additional 56 single-family homes, bringing the total number to 581.

• Voted to adopt a lease agreement with AMJ Leasing LLC for a wide-format printer contingent upon the city attorney’s approval of the contract.

• Voted to table a requested side yard variance for a property on Longleaf Circle because the petitioner for the variance was not present at the meeting.

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