Not satisfied that the principals involved in the Fountain Hills Medical Center are adequately addressing the concerns of nearby residents, the Planning and Zoning Commission last week delayed its consideration of a special use permit for the operation of the hospital.
The hospital, already under construction with steel supports and framing out of the ground, needs the special use permit to operate 24 hours a day, specifically between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
In making his motion to continue the discussion, Commission Vice Chairman Peter Gray said everyone present supports the hospital project. However, he said within the C-1 zoning district and within a couple of hundred feet of residential homes the impact on neighbors is a prime concern.
Gray said he is not certain those impacts are being adequately addressed and asked the medical center principals to talk more with the neighbors.
Residents have complained that when they have talked with the developer, information has focused on services the hospital will offer and not construction or design concerns that might help mitigate light or noise nuisances from the site.
To help screen headlights and vehicle noise from the homes, the site plan calls for an eight-foot high wall and vegetation along the slope behind the hospital. The builder had applied to the town Board of Adjustment for a variance to remove the wall requirement. A board of adjustment meeting scheduled this week was cancelled.
While lighting is designed to meet the standards for the town’s International Dark Sky Community designation, it was suggested that 15-foot light poles are not necessary. Shorter bollard lights were suggested as an option.
The wall and vegetation would help screen extraneous light from the hospital site, it would also be considered helpful with some of the vehicle noise, particularly ambulances. While emergency officials say it is standard practice to shut down sirens when approaching a medical facility, neighbors are concerned about the safety back-up alarms on ambulances, which cannot be shut down.
Currently the hospital is designed with an ambulance drop-off at the northeast corner of the building. It is not designed as a drive-through and a unit would need to back into the bay area. Development Services Director John Wesley said fire department officials have told him they would not need to back into the doorway except in instances of inclement weather. They could drive up parallel to the building, unload the patient and drive away without backing.
Neighbors have indicated they would prefer a design that allows ambulances to drive under and through a canopy at all times without backing in any circumstance.
Resident Larry Meyers outlined what the neighbors are looking for. He said promises have been made and not kept.
“They are not dealing with [neighbors’] concerns,” Meyers said. “They have made everything contingent on their budget.”
Meyers said they would like AC units on the ground, not on the roof, dense vegetation and the wall to screen light and noise and the drive-through ambulance bay.
“We need to get solid plans,” Meyers said.
Resident Ed Stizza said he has no idea how the project got to the stage it has without these issues being addressed.
Jane Bell has been a long-time resident in a home adjacent to the building site. She said she is disappointed people are saying the residents are changing their mind. She said the developer needs to honor their promises and do what is required by town regulation.
The vote to continue the discussion was 5-1. Commissioner Dan Kovacevic dissented.
The commission will take up the permit request again within 60 days.