SVH drops south lot plan
SONOMA VALLEY HOSPITAL still has hopes of developing a medical office building on the south lot, pictured in blue.
After arousing the ire of neighbors and finding little support from the planning commission, Sonoma Valley Hospital will not move forward with its plan to develop a medical office building and wellness center on its south lot property on Fourth Street West. But the hospital is still looking for a way to develop medical office buildings to better recruit and retain Valley doctors.
“We believe we still need a medical office building,” said Chief Executive Officer Kelly Mather during Thursday’s meeting of the Sonoma Valley Health Care District board. “We really need to find something that meets the zoning requirements or at least appeases the neighbors.”
In the now-defunct plan, the hospital had hoped to partner with the Wiseman Company, a Fairfield-based developer specializing in office complexes, to build the 31,360-square-foot medical office building on the south lot, a four-acre parcel on Fourth Street West between MacArthur and Bettencourt streets. Parkpoint Health Clubs also came on as a partner, intending to build
a 21,250-square-foot gym and aquatic center that the hospital could also use as a wellness center for physical therapy.
The south lot is zoned residential, meaning a general plan amendment would be required to bring a commercial gym facility to the property. During a study session on Nov. 8, the Sonoma Planning Commission informed the hospital that it would be a hard sell to bring a commercial designation to a residential neighborhood.
“The planning commission was not positive,” Mather said. The planning commission was equally concerned about vocal opposition from the neighbors to the project.
“We came away from the end of that meeting knowing it would be a long, uphill fight,” said hospital boardmember Peter Hohorst. “At this point, we’re back to the drawing board on how to get our MOB (medical office building).”
Mather said the hospital is still looking into developing medical offices on either the south lot, or perhaps remodeling the aging physician offices on Perkins Street. Medical offices are zoned “public,” a designation more likely to be approved for a general plan amendment. Mather said Valley doctors want offices adjacent to the hospital, and the complex is needed to keep the hospital competitive in physician recruitment and retention.
Newly elected board Chair Bill Boerum expressed his dissatisfaction that the project would not move forward as planned. “There is no other place to put this that has the adjacency. I am very disappointed … this is something our community needs,” he said.
Mather said during a meeting with neighbors two weeks ago, many residents expressed support for a scaled-back office complex with no gym. Bob Gossett, one of the most vocal opponents of the original development deal, agreed that the neighbors were unlikely to fight a project that minimized the impact on traffic and parking.
“Something a little more down-scaled, a little better for the neighborhood could work. There was a consensus that if we work together on this, there could be a plan,” he said, adding that it was contingent on the hospital keeping its promise to bring any new plans to the neighbors first. “We feel very strongly that before they go anywhere else with this thing, they come back to the neighbors.”
The hospital has maintained a lease on the south lot property since 2009, and currently pays $13,811 a month to rent the space for parking and construction staging, money that was allotted as a cost of building the new wing. There’s an option to buy the land for $2.25 million, but currently, the hospital doesn’t have the capital to purchase the property. Hospital officials had hoped the development deal would allow them to buy the land outright and lease it back to the Wiseman Company and Parkpoint.
Mather said Parkpoint Health Clubs is now seeking a new location to build a gym and aquatic center “in or near Sonoma.” She said the hospital still intends to partner in the development of a wellness center for expanded physical therapy opportunities “where ever Parkpoint chooses to go.”
“It’s a better choice to partner physical therapy with a wellness center with exercise as medicine. It’s a better choice to partner with Parkpoint,” Mather said.