MARIETTA - Approximately 14 people attended the second of three public meetings on proposed legislation to create a special zone for Memorial Health System properties within the city of Marietta Tuesday.
Health system officials say the new "hospital-medical" (H-M) zoning would help reduce the amount of time it takes to complete smaller construction projects on the system's Marietta Memorial Hospital, Selby General Hospital and Wayne Street Medical campuses in Marietta.
"The proposed legislation has already been through two readings before Marietta City Council," said Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, and chairman of council's planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee.
The third and final reading of the ordinance is scheduled to follow a public hearing during the Oct. 18 city council meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the community building at Lookout Park.
"If approved by council the legislation would become effective 30 days after the Oct. 18 meeting," Kalter said.
The Marietta Memorial and Selby General hospital campuses are in residential-zoned areas where city code requires property owners to seek a zoning variance from city council before they can obtain a building permit for construction projects.
The Wayne Street Medical campus is situated in a commercially zoned district, and is subject to similar requirements.
In order to grant a zoning code variance council has to develop and approve legislation that often requires three readings during regular council sessions, which are held twice a month. In addition, all projects must receive approval from the Marietta Planning Commission.
"That means any time we do any kind of addition, from a 5 by 5 room to a roof over our loading dock, has to go before the planning commission and we have to obtain a variance," said Kevin Malcolm, health system vice president.
He said the process creates delays that add weeks and costs to even the smallest projects.
"It also uses up time for city officials involved in the process," Malcolm said.
Larger projects, like a parking garage now in the planning stages on the Memorial Hospital campus, would still have to go through the city's permitting and planning process if the new zone is created, he said.
Attorney Brad Payne, who has been working with the health system on the creation of the new H-M zone, noted at this time the system is only asking council to create the zone. Additional legislation would be required later to incorporate the three health system campuses into the new zone.
"And this is not a proposal that would increase the size of our current properties," he said.
Kalter said the proposed legislation contains rules like specific setback and height regulations governing any projects the health system would pursue under the new zoning designation.
Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, noted one good side effect of the hospital being included in a residential zone is that the community is kept apprised of any projects that may impact surrounding neighborhoods.
"And I can't think of a time since I've been on council that the hospital has come to us with a project and we've said 'no,'" he said. "I think council has acted as an oversight for hospital projects."
Vukovic asked what projects have been delayed because of the variance request process.
"I would have to do some research, but probably some of our parking lot projects were delayed," Malcolm answered.
He said the proposed zoning legislation would be a way to codify the health system's project planning process so they would know up front what the city's requirements are before starting a project.
"We wouldn't have to back up and change our plans after taking them to the planning commission," Malcolm added. "This is just setting the standard on how we will plan and build our projects. And I think this legislation is a good way to serve the public's interest."
Kalter said the zoning legislation will be considered by the Marietta Planning Commission during a 3 p.m. meeting at the Washington County Courthouse today, and a third public meeting about the proposal is scheduled at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 in the conference room at the Strecker Cancer Center at Marietta Memorial Hospital.