On a 6-1 vote during its regular session on June 16, the Town Council approved a special use permit (SUP) for the Fountain Hills Medical Center under construction on Trevino Drive at Saguaro Blvd. Councilman David Spelich was the no vote.
The SUP specifically allows the hospital to operate on a 24/7 basis, permitting operations between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The process was somewhat drawn out due to concerns raised by neighbors related to noise and light. Residents on adjoining properties requested enhanced landscaping, a sound study and possible redesign involving HVAC units and bollard lighting.
The council did add staff stipulations to the permit, but declined to include the bollard lighting. A sound study stipulated by the Planning and Zoning Commission was presented to the council, which estimated the HVAC would not exceed town noise regulations.
If the hospital owner requests a SUP for Phase II of construction the council allowed for administrative approval of such a request.
The public hearing included one comment in support of the project from Susan Henderson. She stated that during a medical emergency time is critical and it can take as much as 25 minutes to reach the emergency room in Scottsdale. She also said emergencies do not adhere to a time clock and can occur overnight as well as during daylight hours.
Henderson said she also supports the potential for quality mental and behavioral health in Fountain Hills.
Rose Anouti, whose home is closest to the hospital buildings, said the neighbors do not oppose the hospital; they want consideration of their concerns. She also said she has had difficulty communicating with the developer regarding a perimeter wall that will run concurrent with an existing wall on her property.
Anouti said she wants the wall reconsidered for aesthetics and also asked for a follow-up sound study once the hospital is in operation.
Larry Meyers, who has advocated for the residents since the beginning on this project said he is disappointed that neighbors’ concerns were not addressed as promised early on. He urged the council to look at the proposals that came from Planning and Zoning.
The sound engineer hired by the developer reported to the council that his opinion is that the decibel level from the HVAC units on the hospital would not exceed the 50db maximum described in town regulations. He even speculated that the area is already exposed to decibel levels in excess of that from traffic on Shea and Saguaro boulevards.
Some council members supported the proposal to conduct a second study after the hospital is in operation, as requested by Anouti.
It was noted by Councilman Art Tolis that there is no need for a second study because the town has an existing procedure to process noise complaints, and that can be used if the neighbors believe they are disturbed once operations begin. The council declined to include a follow-up study in stipulations.
Pete Peters, project manager for the hospital, said the owners would not consent to the use of bollard lighting in the parking areas. The plan calls for lights on 15-foot standards that would comply with the town’s dark sky light regulations.
Peters said they had been advised that bollard lighting in a parking lot where there is traffic presents a liability issue for the owner, as they are considered unsafe for that use. Also noted was the significant difference in cost between 15 pole lights and approximately 70 bollards needed to cover the lot.
The council approved the permit subject to six stipulations, including some that have been completed. Those include modification of the ambulance bay to eliminate the need to back out of the bay and trigger the back-up alarm, as well as resubmittal of an enhanced landscape plan.
They are also asking for a sign to let ambulances know they are to take a drive-through route around the building to avoid backing.
The site plan is being modified to include the location of emergency generators.
The current action by council only allows for tentative approval for an SUP for Phase II. Permanent approval will be done with approval of a final site plan for the entire property including additional phases.
“On behalf of the entire Fountain Hills Medical Center and the community we will serve, we are very pleased that the Council has voted yes to the special use permit,” Peters said in a follow-up statement to The Times. “Allowing the hospital to operate 24/7 and take care of our neighbors who may need medical attention day or night is crucial.
“The hospital will offer a variety of services, including an emergency room, imaging center with CT, X-ray, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, laboratory, pharmacy and in-patient beds. We appreciate the overwhelming support we received from the community. We know a hospital is needed and wanted in Fountain Hills and look forward to opening later this year.”