NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover Regional Medical Center has submitted a text amendment application to the county, asking for the freedom to build a seven-story building under certain circumstances.
At the hospital’s side is the design firm LS3P, which New Hanover County has also welcomed into two major projects in recent months.
UPDATE: Following the publication of this report, Port City Daily obtained additional documents related to New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s movements in Scotts Hill.
NHRMC wants to amend a county ordinance that caps the height of structures at 52 feet in areas zoned “Office and Institutional.” The hospital and its new ownership, Novant Health, would like to alter the code, giving “regional medical facilities” permission to build up to seven stories in height.
It is unclear whether or not the intention of this proposed text amendment is to create favorable regulatory conditions for a near-future construction project. The documents were filed by Tom Walsh, NHRMC vice president of facilities and support services.
Novant Health made national headlines in mid-February upon announcing Michael Jordan gave the company $10 million to build two medical clinics in New Hanover County. The target completion date was set for early 2022. No further details about the sites have been released. (Novant Health did not respond to requests for comment.)
NHRMC’s flagship campus and the rest of the medical district is within the boundaries of the City of Wilmington, not unincorporated New Hanover County. (NHRMC staff did not respond to requests for comment regarding future plans related to the text amendment.)
In early February, the N. C. Department of Health and Human services denied NHRMC’s Certificate of Need application to build a new hospital facility in Scotts Hill. The hospital sought approval to add 36 and relocate 30 beds from its midtown orthopedic hub, bringing the northern medical campus to 66 beds. The $210 million plans would have closed down the orthopedic campus and alleviated congestion at the hospital’s flagship on 17th Street.
Located in unincorporated New Hanover County, just before the Pender County line, NHRMC told regulators anticipated demand justified the need for a new hospital facility in Scotts Hill, and planned to expand the existing campus. Regulators disagreed with the hospital’s projections.
NHRMC appealed the denial later that month in February.
An employee of LS3P, the interstate design firm, emailed county staff last week to relay NHRMC wanted to temporarily hold the height increase application, rather than have it considered at a planning board meeting in early May.
In the application, NHRMC stated the rule change would allow larger regional medical facilities “to support a higher bed count,” and accommodate more office space.
The application noted that traditional story heights for medical buildings can range from: “15’-18’ for patient bed areas, 18’-20’ for Diagnostic & Treatment areas, [and] up to 20’-24’ for mechanical mezzanines.”
Given the existing 52-foot height restriction, a building of the sort NHRMC described could be maxed out after only three floors. The proposed text amendment also offers an accompanying 90-foot setback from residential properties.
“The applicant requests flexibility in the height to allow the location to serve the needs of the growing community over the next 50-100 years,” according to the application. “This is also more in keeping with what the City of Wilmington has for similar uses.”
NHRMC’s firm-of-choice for this endeavor, LS3P, has established close ties with New Hanover County leadership, to the extent it was allowed to self-author a recommendation for itself, attributed to the county manager, in pursuit of another government contract.
The firm is part of the development team working to construct the county’s new government center headquarters, and has received contracts for multiple New Hanover County Schools projects. Further, LS3P’s involvement in the Project Grace deal, which came after an invitation from the developer, was marketed as a rebirth of the venture — which involves the creation of a new library and Cape Fear Museum within a block of county-owned land in downtown Wilmington.
In 2005, LS3P merged with Boney Architects, a family firm with a deep history in Wilmington architecture. Paul Boney, an LS3P senior vice president and principal, is the chairman of the New Hanover County Planning Board.
Christopher Boney, chief relationships officer for LS3P, emailed New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet on Apr. 9. (Boney declined to comment on the NHRMC text amendment for this story.)
“Could I use you as a reference for the town of Huntersville town hall?” Boney wrote. “And perhaps add a quote? Thanks for any help!”
According to Lake Norman Media Group, the Town of Huntersville is brewing on the topic of constructing a new town hall, as the current structure struggles to accommodate the community’s growing population. A request for qualifications was initiated earlier this year, kicking off the process by which the town will seek out a qualified contractor.
“Happy to offer any reference and quote you’d like,” Coudriet responded.
To that, Boney offered an idea. “How about a quote like: ‘LS3P has been a great design partner on our New Hanover County Government Center project. Their team is responsive and professional, and provided creative solutions that will allow us to serve our citizens more effectively. I highly recommend them for future projects.’’
Coudriet agreed. “Happy to quote as such,” he replied.
A county spokesperson said LS3P has been engaged by New Hanover County for three projects in the past 10 years: the government center, Project Grace, and a former health building.
The spokesperson said in an email: “We have positive working relationships with many design firms that have helped the county create recent, innovative facilities like the Pine Valley Library, Juvenile Justice Facility, fire stations, and other buildings. And, if requested, the county would provide recommendations for many of the teams that have helped us accomplish these facilities. That is not out of the ordinary.”
“All of the county’s capital projects go through a thorough bidding and review process and there are numerous factors that weigh into a decision to choose a specific team or firm. So the county does not have one preferred choice for capital projects.”
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