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Proposed hospital site up for rezoning; state hearing still looming

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By MELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net

   St. Joseph’s Hospital South, a proposed new acute care facility approved for a Big Bend Road site, is moving closer to reality with application for the rezoning necessary before ground is broken.
   The four-unit, not-for-profit local St. Joseph’s HFRONThospitalospital network is seeking unified rezoning by Hillsborough County of the 72-plus acres it now owns at Big Bend Road and Simmons Loop where its next and fifth facility is planned. The network includes the main hospital Tampa campus, a woman’s hospital, a children’s hospital and the new St. Joseph’s North.
   Simultaneously, St. Joseph’s and Hospital Corporation of America’s South Bay Hospital continue to prepare for a November hearing scheduled to air St. Joseph’s challenge of a prior state approval given South Bay/HCA for its proposed relocation to land essentially across the road.
   The St. Joseph’s petition for rezoning of all of its Big Bend Road holdings under a Planned Development – Hospital and Medical Services designation is set for public hearing on July 26 before a county zoning master, according to Hillsborough records. The application encompasses eight property parcels totaling 72.36 acres.
The unifying rezoning came into play when St. Joseph’s added to acreage it has held on the south side of Big Bend Road east of I-75 for more than 25 years. “Essentially, we squared up the site, creating a more rectangular property,” said Lisa Patterson, hospital spokesperson, of recent acquisitions which added approximately 15 more acres to the proposed hospital site. Some of the property is classified with an AS-1 zoning which permits only agricultural- single family uses.
   If the rezoning application is approved in late July, the matter then progresses to Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners for final acceptance. That meeting date is not yet known.
   The South County hospital campus design process will not be undertaken until appropriate rezoning is in place, Patterson said. However, she noted that entrance to a new St. Joseph’s Hospital built on the site running east from the Simmons Loop intersection with Big Bend Road would be from the widened loop roadway, not from Big Bend Road. New traffic signalization in the area is anticipated, she added.
The proposed facility’s working name at the present time is St. Joseph’s Hospital South, distinguishing it from another recent addition to the hospital network, St. Joseph’s Hospital North, a new acute care installation built in the northwest part of the county. St. Joseph’s South would not mirror St. Joseph’s North and would be both designed and built by different contractors, Patterson added, yet probably would “have the same feel” as the new northwest Hillsborough hospital, Patterson said. A virtual tour of St. Joseph’s North can be seen on the facility’s website accessed at www.stjosephsnorth.com.
   If rezoning approvals are obtained , the design phase accomplished and construction begun in a timely manner, the spokeswoman said the new hospital could be completed in 2015. The project should be begun no later than October, 2011.
   Long before that time, however, at least one more issue requires resolution in the thorny and twisting saga of two hospital networks competing for state approvals to build new full service facilities on neighboring acreages. Their competition dates back several years, spanning at least two petition/approval cycles, and its history is marked by both rejections and approvals issued at one time or another to both by Florida’s Agency on Health Care Administration as well as by court rulings on challenges raised by one contesting the other’s approvals.
   At the present time, HCA’s South Bay Hospital, part of a nationwide, for profit network, has AHCA approval to build a facility replacing its Sun City Center area unit on its acreage in the same vicinity of the proposed St. Joseph’s South but on the north side of Big Bend Road. AHCA’s approval of the St. Joseph’s plan to build on its site on the south side of Big Bend Road – approval on which the local network now is relying – followed a district court of appeal finding effectively in support of the St. Joseph’s proposal.
   Asserting that it is inconceivable two acute care hospitals could operate successfully across the road from one another in the South County service market, St. Joseph’s questions AHCA approval of the South Bay relocation plan.
   For its part, South Bay, continuing to operate in its present location west of Sun City Center, currently is remaining substantially mum on the subject. Melissa Morgan, South Bay spokesperson, said this week only that from the hospital’s perspective, “nothing has changed.”
Attorneys for the two hospital networks at the present time are slated to go head to head in hearings set for November 4 - 5, November 8 - 10, and November 15 - 19, before an administrative law judge.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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