NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The domain of New Hanover Regional Medical Center is set to surge, as Novant Health’s game plan to install a 66-bed acute-care facility in Scotts Hill received unanimous upvotes from the planning board Thursday.
Scotts Hill lies in the county’s northernmost region, just south of the Pender County line. The territory, its real estate and development, have long been intertwined with NHRMC’s long-term growth plans.
Last year, prior to the close of NHRMC’s sale to Novant Health, the local hospital system applied for a Certificate of Need — a medical gatekeeping device used by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) — to build a new hospital in Scotts Hill. NCDHHS said no in February; NHRMC, by then under the wing of Novant Health, was victorious on appeal and in April secured the state’s blessing for the new facility.
Now, one of the final boxes left to check for the hospital system is securing the go-ahead from local government. As it stands, 41 acres of land on which NHRMC would create its new facility are locked into a conditional site plan approved years ago, which ties them to specific blueprints.
Former City of Wilmington assistant attorney Amy Schaefer, who now works for the law firm of Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), represented Novant Health before the planning board Thursday.
The task at hand was a straight rezoning request, which would remove the site-specific conditions and give Novant Health more flexibility in designing the future hospital.
The design firm LS3P is in the hospital system’s corner, having generated renderings of what the new hospital could look like. New Hanover County Planning Board Chairman Paul Boney is an LS3P senior vice president, according to the firm’s website. He recused himself from the agenda item.
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Planning board member Ernest Olds likewise recused himself from the hospital’s rezoning request. Olds is a principal of the design firm Becker Morgan Group. According to the Wilmington Business Journal, NHRMC has previously been a client of Olds’s firm, though the specific reason for the recusal was not cited.
Discussion was brief and all participating members of the planning board voted in favor of the rezoning request. The next step will be a hearing before the board of commissioners, who will make the final call on Novant Health’s request.
This turf has an extensive history: In the early 2000s, local surgeon Hormoze Goudarzi enlisted fellow physicians for a land-buying “pilgrimage” in Scotts Hill. Convinced the area would yield a population growth explosion in the years to come, the group amassed more than 200 acres. In more recent years, they’ve begun to sell their territory. NHRMC purchased a chunk of this group’s land for $9.999 million last year.
READ MORE: How one physician started a revolution in Scotts Hill, recruiting investors and NHRMC along the way
Currently, the Atlantic Surgicenter and an emergency department are housed in the Scotts Hill area, along with a Wilmington Eye outpost. The land-buying doctor group is currently selling adjacent land to a multifamily developer. (At the same planning board meeting that developer’s rezoning request, which would yield 256 units on 13 acres, was unanimously approved).
“With the anticipated growth in the north of the county and the adjacent counties, the hospital seeks to further support the development of a regional medical center where the existing Scotts Hill Free standing Emergency Department and Surgery Center are located,” according to the Novant Health application.
“The further residential and employment center growth of this section of the county and the growth of the adjacent areas of Pender County have made it clear that additional medical center needs are to be addressed in the area.”
Through a spokesperson, NHRMC declined to be interviewed following their successful planning board hearing, the spokesperson directed Port City Daily to a previous statement:
“With the significant population growth in our region, New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Novant Health continue to keep a forward-looking focus on ensuring we meet the needs of our region,” according to the statement.
“We are still in the early stages of our planning, which will include approval processes with a variety of stakeholders. So while we will announce more specifics in the future, we look forward to exploring how we can improve access to quality and advanced care in the northern New Hanover County area.”
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