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City staff endorses hospital proposal.

Byline: MATT COOPER The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - The city staff on Friday said PeaceHealth's plan for a $350 million regional medical center in northwest Springfield meets land use guidelines, providing support for the most controversial project in Eugene-Springfield in years.

The staff's voluminous report comes just days before a critical juncture for the Bellevue, Wash.-based health organization: The Springfield Planning Commission is expected to vote Wednesday whether to recommend approval of land use amendments that PeaceHealth needs to build Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend on open land between Game Farm Road and the McKenzie River.

It's unclear how the commission will respond to staff's support for the project, but commission Chairman Tim Malloy cautioned that the board is far from a rubber stamp for staff recommendations.

"I give (staff reports) some weight, but not too terribly much," said Malloy, who has recused himself from Wednesday's vote due to his employment with a division of PeaceHealth.

"As a commission we have some discretion," Malloy said.

Critics said they weren't surprised by the staff's support and they want the commission to weigh heavily the land use rules in the Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan Plan and the Gateway Refinement Plan, the guiding documents for approval.

Jan Wilson, coordinator of CHOICES, said the project is unacceptable because building the hospital on that site is inconsistent with the Metro Plan. "I hope (the planning commission) has read enough of the testimony to see that it doesn't satisfy the criteria and they cannot approve this," she added.

Lauri Segel, spokeswoman for 1000 Friends of Oregon, said PeaceHealth's plan to shift its regional health care hub from the Sacred Heart facility in downtown Eugene to the suburban fringe in Springfield has repercussions that staff hasn't analyzed.

"The socioeconomic impacts, the shifts of the jobs, the transportation, the housing - those shifts haven't been planned for," Segel said. "My hopes are that the planning commission will say that amending the Gateway Refinement Plan requires convening a group (of interested parties)."

Some who live in the area are also worried about a hospital moving into their neighborhood.

"People in my neighborhood still don't like the idea of a hospital in there," said Bonnie Ullmann, spokeswoman for the Game Farm Neighbors. "I don't want to see (Springfield's McKenzie-Willamette Hospital) go under, I don't want to see flooding in our neighborhood. None of that has changed."

But PeaceHealth development Director Philip Farrington said that staff rightly dismissed a number of arguments inappropriate for the land use question before the commission, including the possibility that the new regional medical center would put the smaller McKenzie-Willamette out of business.

"The financial viability of McKenzie-Willamette is clearly beyond the scope of the criteria for approval," Farrington said. "We are conforming with the applicable approval criteria."

In their report, staff made recommendations that would preserve the ability to build an urban village on some portion of 33 acres that PeaceHealth wants rezoned for mixed-use commercial development. All sides agree that the village will reduce sprawl, although the health organization doesn't want it centered on the hospital campus.

Staff members rewrote language in the proposal to give the city the power to regulate the height of the facility. It also revised the PeaceHealth proposal to ensure that any development along the McKenzie River must accommodate public access to the river, in an effort to address a concern raised by the state Department of Land, Conservation and Development.

Ullmann, of the Game Farm Neighbors, said she was confident that the staff was receptive to ninth-inning concerns about the project raised by her neighborhood, including access to the river and strict design standards.

And she wasn't resigned to the notion that staff's support equates to project approval.

"The decision is the planning commission's decision," Ullmann said. "We're counting on the planning commission to show some restraint and some sensitivity to the rest of the community."

WHAT'S NEXT

The Springfield Planning Commission will vote on PeaceHealth's RiverBend project at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The vote will be forwarded to the council for a final decision.
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Title Annotation:PeaceHealth: Springfield officials determine that the project meets planning guidelines.; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 18, 2003
Words:675
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