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The Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending the Town Council approve a Zoning Ordinance Amendment that defines the designation for hospitals in the Town of Fountain Hills.

The item was continued from a meeting in April when commission members asked staff for clarification on the definition applied to hospitals. There was some concern by residents, as well as commission members, that the definition proposed in the ordinance amendment was too broad. Their concern is that as proposed, the ordinance might allow for substance abuse rehabilitation or detox facilities within zoning districts where they would not be appropriate.

Some residents had become concerned after there was a general inquiry of town staff regarding the ability to place a detox facility within a commercial zoning district in the downtown.

The language proposes the definition of “hospital” in the ordinance as “includes establishments known and licensed as general medical and surgical hospitals primarily engaged in providing diagnostic and medical treatment (both surgical and nonsurgical) to inpatients with any of a wide variety of medical conditions. These establishments maintain inpatient beds for patients who can stay for more than 24 hours. These establishments usually provide other services, such as outpatient services, anatomical pathology services, diagnostic X-ray services, clinical laboratory services, operating room services for a variety of procedures, and pharmacy services. This definition shall not include, nor a provision for, outpatient nor inpatient services defined or classified under the umbrella of behavioral health including chemical dependency with the exception of emergent, initial point of care treatment typical of an emergency department.”

The zoning change proposal would allow hospitals in C-2 or C-3 zoning districts by right. The Fountain Hills Medical Center, which was permitted within the C-1 zoning with a special use permit for 24-hour operation, would become a legal non-conforming use. The ordinance allows “hospitals; subject to approval of a special use permit in the C-1 and C-C districts to operate between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

Resident Crystal Cavanaugh, who has been an advocate for keeping detox and rehab facilities out of Fountain Hills, told the commission she is satisfied with the new ordinance.

“I support specifying and tightening the language,” she said. “I think we need to be very specific to keep these facilities out of Fountain Hills.

“I am still worried about future applications.”

Dr. Scott Schleifer, Emergency Room Medical Director for Fountain Hills Medical Center, called the proposed definition “spot on.”

“There is a difference between acute emergency in mental or behavioral health treated by us and what you are talking about,” Schleifer said. “We will treat someone for an alcohol or drug overdose and move them to an appropriate facility.

“A long-term facility is what you want to limit.”

Resident Larry Meyers also an advocate for banning rehab facilities, said he is “pretty comfortable” with the proposed definition.

“I appreciate that the hospital needs to treat emergencies,” Meyers said. “A long-term facility is something you do not want in the community.”

The commission voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed amendment. Commissioner Clayton Corey was the dissenting vote.

This item has not yet been scheduled for council consideration.