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The Planning and Zoning Commission has delayed its discussion on a Zoning Ordinance amendment that would allow hospitals as a use in all commercial zoning districts in Fountain Hills.

Development Services Director John Wesley proposed the change as a follow-up to the Town Council approval of the Fountain Hills Medical Center within a C-1 zoning district at Trevino Drive and Saguaro Blvd.

At the time the application for the hospital was received in 2019, there was no provision for hospitals in the town’s Zoning Ordinance, according to Wesley. At that time, staff determined that C-2 would be the most appropriate zoning district for that use. The developer initially applied for a zoning change to C-2 for the subject property.

However, nearby residents resisted the zoning change from C-1 to C-2, although they had no particular objection to the use. Eventually the neighbors did object to a number of design elements of the facility including rooftop HVAC, lighting and landscaping.

The proposal went forward, and the council deemed C-1 zoning appropriate for a hospital and approved the project for the site.

Wesley brought the new amendment forward so the Zoning Ordinance is consistent with the council decision to allow the hospital on the property zoned C-1. The proposed ordinance does have the provision that if a hospital is proposed for either C-1 or C-C zoned sites, it will require a Special Use Permit. That is consistent with what was approved for the Fountain Hills Medical Center.

Commission Vice Chairman Peter Gray said he does not believe that hospitals are an appropriate use for C-1 zoning. He explained the ordinance calls out C-1 for commercial business directly beneficial to immediate adjoining neighborhoods. He does not believe that fits.

“What is the gain here, to allow this?” Gray asked.

Wesley said it is simply to codify what the council has already approved.

Gray said he believes that the use of the term “hospital” could open the C-1 zoning to other uses that are truly not conducive to that zoning situation.

Resident Larry Meyers said he agrees hospitals should not be allowed in C-1.

“We fought hard to keep the town from rezoning the (Fountain Hills Medical Center) property to C-2,” Meyers said. “We went along with allowing (the hospital) in C-1.

“It seemed OK as promised. That was a giant mistake, we should have kept fighting. This is not a benign use.”

Gray proposed that staff reconsider and bring the proposal back, allowing hospitals in C-2 and C-3 districts, but not C-1 or CC.

Gray did ask Wesley what impact that would have on the existing Fountain Hills Medical Center.

Wesley said they would be a non-conforming use based on the Zoning Ordinance, and they would not be able to move forward with what is proposed for Phase II of the medical center, which is additional patient rooms and surgical facilities.

Gray said he thought the initial approval included Phase II. Wesley said it did not. A proposed phase to develop medical offices and clinics would be permitted in the C-1 site.

The commission voted to continue the discussion to its May 10 session.