Mercy given green light

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
— Construction could start as soon as today on a 24,000-square-foot medical facility that Mercy Health System plans to complete on the city's northeast side by the end of the year.

The city's plan commission approved a conditional-use permit Monday for the first phase of what could over many years become a development of four Mercy buildings that encompass a total of 475,000 square feet.

The commission's 5-0 approval—two members abstained—came after a public hearing at which only one member of the public spoke.

Tony Farrell Sr. said he strongly supports Mercy's plans, which he said would bring excellent health care closer to the northeast side community.

The first phase of the project includes an emergency department and physicians' clinic on Deerfield Drive just north of Home Depot.

Mercy officials have said the new emergency department and its eight rooms will be a necessary extension of the emergency room and Level II trauma center at the system's main Janesville campus, which they said is now constrained with just 16 emergency rooms.

Rich Gruber, Mercy's vice president of community advocacy, said future phases that could include more physician offices and an inpatient hospital are years—perhaps even decades—down the line.

Such a timeline, he said, is impossible to predict because health care delivery is changing so rapidly.

"We'll listen to the community, and we'll react when the community says it's time to add more services on Deerfield," Gruber said.

The fact that only one person other than city staff and commission members spoke at the hearing seemed to speak volumes about Mercy's outreach on the project, which has been on a fast track since the system announced its aggressive timetable for the $6 million plan in June.

Last month, Mercy held a neighborhood meeting to lay out the proposal and address a wide variety of concerns from residents still upset about problems tied to the 2006 development of a Walmart Supercenter and Sam's Club development to the north.

Commission Chairwoman Kathy Voskuil remembers the Walmart project well. She lives nearby and shares her neighbors' concerns and frustrations on the Walmart project.

She and other commission members commended Mercy for having the neighborhood meeting and then following up and addressing neighbors' concerns.

"Often, a lack of communication is a problem," Voskuil said. "The quickness of your follow-up was outstanding.

"We look forward to you being a good neighbor."

"We will be a good neighbor," Gruber responded. "That's a promise."

In making its recommendation for approval of the permit, city staff said Mercy's site plan answered all concerns.

The permit requires that Mercy:

-- Secure flight plans so helicopters do not fly over homes to the east. Mercy officials have said they anticipate no more than one or two flights a year at the site.

-- Design buildings no taller than three stories.

-- Assure residents that traffic will not be a problem. The results of a recent traffic study show no substantial traffic impacts on the surrounding road network are expected, and only at full build-out would Sandhill Drive need to be extended to connected Wright Road and Deerfield Drive.

-- Manage stormwater on its own property to ease drainage problems in the areas. The stormwater retention facility built by Walmart does not work, and standing water remains a major concern for residents. Walmart is trying to repair its system.

-- Screen residents to the east who were upset after the trees that screened them from the Walmart development were removed with little notice. Mercy will fill the gap now even though it wouldn't be required until future phases, all of which must be approved individually by the commission.

Last updated: 6:18 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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