WellStar has applied with the city to rezone about 62 acres at the intersection of Sixes Road and Interstate 575. WellStar has proposed a health park with outpatient services, a hospital and a hospice facility.
WellStar representative Richard Calhoun said at Monday night’s meeting that the property would be developed in three phases: a health park, a hospital and a hospice facility.
The hospital, he said, could come in seven to 10 years.
WellStar plans to move on the health park immediately pending zoning approval. Calhoun said the health park would be 100,000 to 150,000 square feet and would bring $38 million in capital investment. It would employ 125 to 150 people.
Calhoun said the health park could include a freestanding emergency center that provides trauma care without being attached to a hospital.
“Ninety-five percent of people would be treated and released,” he said. The other 5 percent would be transported to WellStar facilities for further treatment.
The eventual 100-bed hospital WellStar is proposing would be an eight-story facility.
“That’s not something that’s going to be built right away,” Calhoun said.
The building of a hospice center would be based on public demand, according to Calhoun.
But the issue at hand now, he said, is not what WellStar intends to build, but whether the Sixes Road location is appropriate.
“It’s already general commercial, which is the most intense zoning in most any jurisdiction,” Calhoun said.
The site is appropriate for a hospital, he said.
“This is a former manufacturing and warehouse site, it’s at the interstate, and across the road, if you look at medical facilities complementing one another, you’ve got Northside,” he said.
The proposed emergency center and hospital are subject to approval from the Georgia Department of Community Health via a Certificate of Need. WellStar filed a letter of intent with the Georgia Department of Community Health in January but did not file for a CON within the 30-day deadline.
Calhoun said traffic would not be an issue when the new facility is built, citing recent road improvements made on Sixes Road.
“Where else would you put a facility like this in Cherokee County?” Calhoun asked.
Joe Brywczynski, senior vice president for health parks development with WellStar, said WellStar’s health parks in Cobb County have been successful at attracting general and specialty physicians.
“We’re bringing these outpatient services to you,” he said. “Previously, hospitals tried to keep up with this outpatient growth on our main campuses. This is in a much more convenient and accessible fashion.”
The proposed site of WellStar’s development is in the southwest quadrant of the Sixes Road and I-575 intersection. Northside Hospital has an imaging center in the northeast quadrant.
Northside previously pursued building a hospital in Holly Springs. WellStar fought the plan, and Northside did not build in Holly Springs.
WellStar spokesperson Keith Bowermaster said WellStar has not closed on the property and added that WellStar’s plans will be able to plan more definitively once the zoning decision is made.
Billy Hayes, CEO of Northside Cherokee, focused on Northside’s past as a community partner and future development at Monday night’s meeting.
“When you ask where to put this type of facility, I’m going to show you where to put it. Between exits 16 and 19 is a perfect spot,” he said.
Hayes said WellStar opposed Northside’s plans to build a hospital in Holly Springs in 1999 and opposed Northside’s decision to build the future replacement hospital in Canton.
Northside is investing $250 million in the first phase of its replacement hospital between Highway 20 and Highway 140.
“Guess where those patients are going to stay? Cherokee County, not Cobb, which is exactly where they’re going to go with WellStar,” Hayes said.
Hayes said any needed outpatient services will be available at Northside’s Towne Lake medical office building, currently under construction and set to open in August.
“This isn’t a pipe dream. This isn’t something that could come in eight, nine, 10 years. It’s under construction as we speak,” he said.
Later, during a question-and-answer session, Hayes said Northside’s new facility has room to grow to meet future medical needs in Cherokee County.
Don Hausfeld, who is working on the Northside development, said the Sixes Road property’s current zoning includes 45 conditions regarding architecture, streetscapes, lighting and other factors, which WellStar has asked to have waived.
WellStar has asked for the conditional use permit to be extended for 10 years and then be renewable for two-year increments, Hausfeld said.
“If the applicant purchased the property, and for 10 years they can’t get a Certificate of Need, they could abandon or sell, leaving a 61-acre site unrestricted in terms of architecture,” Hausfeld said.
Hausfeld also said WellStar did not provide thorough answers to questions included in the zoning application.
“This project is probably the most dense, complex project Holly Springs has seen, or Cherokee County for that matter, and six of these questions were not answered,” he said.
WellStar has applied for zoning and a conditional use permit. The Holly Springs Planning Commission first heard the issue on Jan. 17 and tabled the zoning case until its meeting Thursday.
The planning commission gives recommendations to the city council, which has the final vote on zoning cases.
The city council is expected to discuss WellStar’s zoning case at a March 4 work session and vote at a March 18 meeting.
Hausfeld warned that removing zoning restrictions for the hospital could set a precedent for other Sixes Road property owners.
Garland Stewart, a resident of the Falls of Cherokee, asked why WellStar sees a need for a hospital in a location where the company has previously protested that need.
“You fought and fought and fought until (Northside) backed down,” Stewart said.
Chris Kane, senior vice president of business development for WellStar, said the opposition in the 1990s was under different WellStar leadership and different circumstances.
When it comes to the replacement hospital in Canton, Kane said WellStar did not oppose a new facility but opposed the process.
Kane reiterated WellStar’s commitment to Cherokee County.
“We have more hospital admissions of Cherokee County patients than all of Northside combined,” Kane said, noting that WellStar hopes to modify its perception in Cherokee County.
John Seufert, a resident of the Falls of Cherokee, voiced concerns about a creek along the property. Seufert and other residents were involved in creating the stipulations set for the proposed WellStar site.
“We were very happy with those 45 stipulations,” he said, questioning how the land could be protected if the stipulations are lifted and WellStar sells the property.
“The first protection is the staff recommendations,” Calhoun said. The stipulations WellStar wants to remove are “not appropriate” for a medical park and were intended for more of a retail setting, he said.
When asked about the changing nature of zoning requirements, Hausner said the site’s conditions state that architecture is controlled by the developer and is subject to approval from the city’s development director.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the site is next to a major residential corridor, and the county and city need to keep the future land-use plan in mind.
Ahrens also said the county would lose out on some tax revenue by having a hospital instead of retail or other commercial development on the site. A commercial development could bring in $1.2 million in county and school taxes per year.
“That’s a lot of money. There is a financial question,” he said.
Holly Springs Mayor Tim Downing said it was a “blow to the city” when Northside didn’t build on Sixes Roads in the past.
“A lot of our planning revolved around the hospital going there,” he said.
Downing added that the businesses the hospital could attract could put the city in a better position than other commercial and retail development would.
“This is a zoning issue, but it’s also a planning issue. This is something we’ve always planned for,” Downing said, noting that WellStar has agreed to start building on a portion of the property within a year.
Downing said the hospital zoning would be a downgrade from the possible uses once allowed on the property.
Downing said his position is not based on favoritism for one hospital over the other.
“I’m not for WellStar or against Northside. I’m for a hospital in Holly Springs,” he said. “I’m pleased that Northside is building a state-of-the-art facility, and that will force WellStar to do the same.”
Downing said information that Holly Springs has relaxed all its zoning standards is “irresponsible.”
“We don’t need a second hospital right now. But where will we be in 15 years? In 20 years? Will we need one then, and not have planned a place to put it?” he said. “I see this as a positive move for us in the county.”
During the question-and-answer session, when residents pushed to know more about when the hospital would be built, Downing said it’s impossible to know right now.
“They can’t build until the state says they can build,” he said.
In response to questions regarding any interests the city council may have when it comes to the WellStar project, Downing said one city council member is employed as a nurse with WellStar. Downing said he did not foresee a problem, but it would be that council member’s decision whether or not to participate in the vote.
Georgette Thaler asked if the county’s growth would be enough to warrant a new hospital.
Downing said it would be irresponsible to not plan for the possible need.
“If it takes 20 years, it sits there for 20 years with trees and we collect taxes. I don’t understand the problem with that dynamic,” he said.
Monday night’s meeting was held by the BridgeMill Community Association, Falls at Cherokee and Copper Creek.