Church Street residents have argued the hospital’s plan to build a bridge threatens their historic neighborhood. WellStar officials say Kennestone’s emergency room is overcrowded and in need of an expansion. WellStar plans to develop an area it calls “the triangle” at the corner of Church, Cherry and Cherokee streets by building a new two-story, 175,020-square-foot building there, including an 80,750-square-foot emergency department.
The new emergency room would be connected to the existing surgery department by a 20-foot bridge across Church Street. A parking deck is also included in the plans.
Candice Groves, who lives off Freyer Drive, was one of several residents to speak out against the proposal Wednesday, asking for an alternative solution.
“The bridge and horizontal easements across the roads are not right for this community,” Groves said. “It’s really only appropriate in very dense, urban cores and that is not a dense, urban core.”
But Councilman Andy Morris, who represents the area, came prepared with a typed-out speech, which he read from, explaining why a vote to approve the request was needed.
“I personally believe this bridge will be a very attractive gateway addition to our city, and I believe it will provide safety to those who need it most,” Morris read, before calling for a vote in which the council approved the easement request 7-0.
Morris also read from a May 8 letter from WellStar CEO Reynold Jennings to Mayor Steve Tumlin which said, among other things, that “WellStar has no plans to develop WellStar’s portion of the block lying between Margaret Street, Cherry Street, Church Street and Cherokee Street in its present five-year plan other than for the property to be used as a landscape buffer and parking area.”
Art gallery owner Kee Carlisle, who lives off Sessions Street, stepped up to the lectern before the vote, telling the council that WellStar, “did a terrible public relations job of not working with the advisory community board, which I’m a member of, rather let us read in the newspaper of what’s going to be happening and so forth, and so I’m disappointed.”
Carlisle also expressed dismay with WellStar’s letter, which he doesn’t believe is binding.
“I’m also disturbed because this letter said ‘current plans.’ Current plans do not include further expansion,” Carlisle said. “Now you can read a lot into that, but that sounds to me like next year’s five-year plan will include it.”
WellStar Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Kim Menefee sat in the audience but remained silent throughout the discussion.
Resident Jeff Traicoff, who lives off Freyer Drive, said after the meeting he knew the bridge approval was “a done deal” before arriving at the meeting.
“It’s not a good deal for the city,” Traicoff said. “I don’t know anybody in the group that I work with that’s actually against building in there. We’re just all concerned about the future growth and there is no stops at this point from preventing them from coming into the neighborhoods.”
Retired Cobb Juvenile Court Judge Jim Morris believes an emergency room is not needed in “the triangle,” but should be kept where it is and expanded to the south.
“What they’re doing is conquering this triangle so they can expand to the east,” Morris said. “There’s nothing in the stipulation that says they’re not going to move east. Everything up against the hospital, all the years it’s been there since 1950, everything against the hospital gets eaten up, everything residential gets eaten alive.”
Like Traicoff, Carlisle said he knew the council would approve the bridge.
“We knew that because for one thing I live in Ward 4 and our city councilman (Morris) has been all for pushing this vote ever since the thing got started,” Carlisle said. “And the other thing, every time the hospital has come before City Council to ask for approval for a measure they’ve always gotten it. And I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying they’ve always gotten it.”
Dan Conn, the city’s public works director, said the bridge won’t be erected for another three to five years while the hospital obtains the needed permitting for the emergency room expansion.
In other business, council members also approved a resolution that creates a new tax district called the Gateway Marietta Community Improvement District along the Franklin Road corridor.
Community improvement districts are formed by area property owners who agree to tax themselves at a higher rate, up to 5 additional mills, using the extra revenues to obtain state and federal dollars to pay for infrastructure improvements.
“The next step is for the property owners to elect a board who will set the millage tax rate,” said Beth Sessoms, the city’s economic development director.
There are two other CIDs in Cobb County: the Cumberland CID and the Town Center Area CID.