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County denies hospital location
By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published July 11, 2007
WESLEY CHAPEL - County commissioners, wearing their hats as Pasco's top elected planners, on Tuesday unanimously denied a proposed location for a new hospital in Wesley Chapel.
The decision is a setback for University Community Hospital and Adventist Health System, which won state approval in June to jointly build a new hospital.
Residents had protested the proposed location on 40 acres at State Road 54 and Tupper Road, saying the new hospital would seriously affect their quality of life.
They pointed out that Adventist already owns another 50-acre property a few miles south on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Tuesday's decision means UCH and Adventist would have to build on another location, possibly its Bruce B. Downs site.
But UCH representatives warned that this puts the new hospital at risk, since rival hospital groups are already challenging the state's June decision. UCH may now have to convince an administrative law judge of the merits of an alternative location.
"We were looking for a central location to the whole Wesley Chapel area, as central as you can get," said Norm Stein, UCH's chief executive. "It is more accessible to Interstate 75. Those were two of the major considerations."
While state officials have said they did not approve a specific location, they told UCH in an e-mail that the state's analysis was aided by the fact that the UCH application provided a specific location, according to UCH at Tuesday's hearing.
But Commissioner Michael Cox responded: "Reading that e-mail, it is not conclusive that they approved it on that site and that site alone."
UCH also said it has a hospital in Carrollwood that also sits in a densely populated neighborhood.
About a dozen residents, backed by hundreds of signatures, took the podium in protest.
Most said they do not oppose a hospital, but that residences tend to grow up around hospitals rather than the other way around, including UCH's facility in Carrollwood.
"We appreciate that there will be houses built there," said resident Daniel Bade, referring to county's current land use plans for the site. "We're not opposed to growth. We're opposed to a 24-hour neighbor."
"Why not the location they currently own?" resident Jennifer Richard asked. "I think the state has made it clear they can go anywhere in this area."
Stein argued it could take 30 minutes for northern Pasco residents to get to the Adventist site.
Commissioners, sitting as the Land Planning Agency, rejected UCH's arguments. They will revisit the decision when they meet as the County Commission in two weeks.