WellStar bypasses zoning process for east Cobb campus
by Kim Isaza
November 14, 2012 12:44 AM | 10569 views | 14 14 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kennestone Hospital Authority board chairman Bob Prillaman, top, listens as east Cobb resident Burt Wallace asks Authority board members to reject ownership of the 23 acres and force WellStar Health System to seek county zoning approval for the proposed East Cobb Health Park.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Kennestone Hospital Authority board chairman Bob Prillaman, top, listens as east Cobb resident Burt Wallace asks Authority board members to reject ownership of the 23 acres and force WellStar Health System to seek county zoning approval for the proposed East Cobb Health Park.
Staff/Laura Moon
MARIETTA — The Kennestone Hospital Authority has accepted ownership of 23 acres of land on which WellStar Health System intends to build its East Cobb Health Park.

All nine members of the Authority attended Tuesday’s lunchtime meeting and voted in favor. By taking ownership of the property, which is near Roswell and Providence Roads in east Cobb and zoned for residential use, WellStar avoids going through the county’s zoning process and can develop the property as it sees fit.

Only one resident urged the Authority against accepting the move, though three citizens spoke in favor. East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott told the Journal he would have also preferred the project go through county zoning.

WellStar hopes to break ground on the 205,000-square-foot health park in the spring. The opening is slated for September 2014.

The $80 million campus will include such features as an urgent care facility, primary and specialty doctors’ offices, laboratories and a pharmacy. WellStar has received state approval for an outpatient surgery center on the site, though competitor Northside Hospital got that approval overturned in Fulton County Superior Court. WellStar is now appealing that to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

WellStar bought the 23 acres from local lawyer Tom Cauthorn for $9 million, or just under $400,000 per acre, in July 2009.

WellStar’s governing Board of Trustees voted on Nov. 1 to transfer the property to the Authority, subject to the current lease agreement between WellStar and the Authority.

Some neighbors previously expressed frustration with the idea of more traffic on the steep Providence Road, though WellStar officials say they plan to have traffic access the health park only from Roswell Road. Some also wanted limits on the hours of activities such as trash pickup, and a design that would not flood their properties with bright lights at night.

Burt Wallace, who lives in the Independence Square subdivision, urged the Authority members to reject ownership of the property, thereby forcing WellStar to seek county zoning approval.

The county’s zoning process generally requires developers to work out their differences with neighbors and stipulate to such agreements in writing.

Wallace said the health park would have a “severe impact” on quality of life in the area.

“This is my home,” he said. “I hope you can appreciate that. The concerns of the neighbors have been marginalized and ignored. … We’re not anti-development, we just feel it needs to be accommodating to our concerns.”

Wallace also said there are “serious conflict of interest concerns” with some members of the Authority who are or previously have been connected to WellStar and some who may have financial interests in the development.

Two Authority members — Charlie Jones and Randall Bentley, Sr. — are also WellStar Trustees, which WellStar lawyer Leo Reichert said is not unusual and does not present a conflict.

As the Authority members were discussing whether to accept the property, Jones asked Wallace what conflict he saw.

Wallace said the affiliations many board members have with WellStar presents “an intrinsic bias.”

“It looks like the fox is guarding the henhouse,” he said.

County Commissioner Ott said he previously told Jones that Ott wanted the project to go through zoning, “because people in the district felt that gave them a better opportunity to continue working with WellStar to come up with a project that met everybody’s concerns.”

“The folks at WellStar, to their credit, have said they’d continue working with the community,” Ott said. “That would be my hope, even though it’s not required. They’re to be commended on the fact that they made the effort.”

Ott said he didn’t learn about Tuesday’s scheduled vote until Monday.

Owen Brown, a member of the advisory committee WellStar created to hear neighboring residents’ concerns, commended the Marietta-based health system for trying to build the project.

Brown is a real-estate developer and owner of Retail Planning Corp., which owns Woodlawn Point and Woodlawn Square shopping centers not far from the proposed East Cobb Health Park, among other properties.

Brown recalled his experiences helping his church, Johnson Ferry Baptist, open a satellite church in Acworth, a project that was ultimately split with WellStar for a health park in that part of the county.

“The zoning took one year to get approval. Then one neighbor sued both of us, and the lawsuit lasted five years,” he said. “I urge you to put this in the authority. Here, you’ve got Northside fighting you every step of the way. If you go through zoning, you can count on five to six years. Will the state grant you five one-year extensions (on the surgery center)?”

Sharon Mason, a senior vice president of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and an east Cobb resident, said she’d like to see the health park built “as soon as possible.”

“I’m delighted to see the financial interest WellStar is building in the community,” Mason said. “Surrounding businesses will benefit and new businesses will come as well.”

Kim Menefee, a WellStar senior vice president, told the Authority that respondents in telephone surveys and focus groups were “overwhelmingly positive” about the project.

Still, Lee O’Neal, a member of the advisory board who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, told the Journal he would have rather the health system go through the zoning process.

“The value of zoning to the surrounding neighborhoods is to give neighbors a voice, and then to document commitments by WellStar to incorporate design features,” said O’Neal, a telecommunications executive who also lives in the Independence Square subdivision. “The neighborhoods want a commitment from WellStar to limit the intensity of use and to incorporate usage design limits to help protect the neighborhoods. Through the advisory committee, WellStar has listened to the neighborhoods’ requests, but to date, WellStar has made no commitment to incorporate those requests. And that’s all the neighbors want.”

Bob Prillaman chairs the Kennestone Hospital Authority. Other members are Tom Phillips, Bentley, Bill Enete, Butch Thompson, Bill Hutson, Janet Street, Jones and Dr. Paul Payne.

Tuesday afternoon, WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said in a statement that the health system aims to build a health park with greater access to health services “while being respectful of the surrounding neighborhoods.”

“Due to continued unfounded objections from Northside Hospital, the project has been significantly delayed, and the zoning process would potentially create additional delays. For more than two years, WellStar’s new Acworth Health Park was delayed by zoning-related litigation,” according to the statement. “WellStar and the Cobb County-Kennestone Hospital Authority strongly believe it is the right decision and in the best interest of the communities that they serve to move forward with the East Cobb Health Park.”

As to fears of a future helicopter landing pad at the site, Bowermaster said there would be no reason for WellStar to install that.

“Air transport is used to transport a patient from the scene of an event to a hospital, or from one hospital to another hospital,” Bowermaster said. “The East Cobb Health Park is not a hospital.”
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It just ain't right!
November 15, 2012
I'd like to see this thing go in front of a judge. Even Bowermaster said. “The East Cobb Health Park is not a hospital.” If it isn't a hospital, then why the heck is the Hospital Authority taking ownership and making such an effort to avoid zoning? The answer is easy...almost all the Board members work for WellStar or get paid by WellStar to serve on other WellStar Boards. The only exception is Thompson who runs a construction company (let's keep an eye on that!). The conflicts of interest are just too obvious to overlook.

This project is an ego monument more than anything else. It has little to do with serving the community. Just look at all the leadership scandals and changes at WellStar over the last year or so. This is one screwed up outfit.

Mr. Wallace is right. It's a classic case of the "fox guarding the henhouse". I'd love to see how a judge would rule. Any good (retired?) attorneys out there looking for some high profile pro-bono work? This one looks to be a pretty straightforward case.

If someone doesn’t clip WellStar’s wings soon, you can bet there will be more news. These guys are out of control.

Bob Bummer
November 15, 2012
I bet if a waste management company tried to use an "Authority" to purchase land and build a landfill or waste transfer station it would go through county zoning.
November 14, 2012
What ever happened to the monopoly busters of the 1980s?

We need y'all to rise from your graves!

"Wellstar" (commonly referred to by survivors of customers as "Deathstar") OWNS this county.

It's way past time for that to end!

Bust up Wellstar NOW!
November 14, 2012
To steal a line from a movie; "What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here!!"

It is hard to believe that WellStar is allowed to bypass the zoning process by simply transferring ownership to the Kennestone Hospital Authority.

Obviously that is a ruse to avoid dealing with the surrounding neighborhoods.

Sounds like the good ol' boy network is alive and well in Cobb County.
east cobb resident 2
November 14, 2012
Bypass the zoning approval process? What?! Stop the abuse of power now. I live in this area and have head about the proposed project but was waiting for the notice about the hearing. The citizens of this area deserve to be heard on this matter!!!
November 14, 2012
Relax NIMBYs, or you'll need some WellStar heart condition therapy. It's just a medical center, not a nuclear waste dump.

Kudos to the hospital authority for doing the sensible thing and not bowing to the selfish rants of a few NIMBYs.

Get over it folks, East cobb is an urban area now, and you're just going to have to get used to it.
An outrage
November 15, 2012
I love the Wellstar lurkers who post NIMBY comments on these boards. Typical loser tactics...

Wellstar needs to state loud and clear- they will build berms on Providence Road, and have NO TRAFFIC ENTRANCES on Providence Road.

Wellstar has gotten exactly what it should have expected by playing politics and close-to-the-vest games instead of being above board. They could have had a facility that worked for the area built long ago if they had played by the rules.

November 15, 2012
Well, no, Mr outraged....

Looks like YOU'RE the loser here.

You're reaping what you've sown over and over.... More development, and the heck with the people who were here first, or who try to follow you in. Once you're in, you want no more development.

That's not the way it works, though. You don't get to close the door and keep things exactly like they were when you barged in on the people who were her first.

Like I said... Get used to it
Self Inflicted
November 14, 2012
Kim Menefee said phone surveys were positive
Are you kidding?
November 14, 2012
Did the phone survey clarify that WellStar would circumvent all zoning regs and stuff a 4 story complex in the midst of a residential area?

Did the phone survey clarify that the Health Park would be built in an area zoned for single-family housing and surrounded by established neighborhoods?

I doubt it...and if it did, I bet the survey results would have been much different.

What WellStar is doing is wrong...pure and simple. Coob County Zoning has always done a pretty good job of encouraging development while preserving neighborhoods and quality of life. WellStar and the Hospital Authority have made it clear they could care less about the community. If they did, they would go through zoning and let the Zoning folks do their job.
Afew more facts...
November 14, 2012
WellStar is planning 3 more similar developments in Cobb County, and they most certainly will use the same approach. The precedent is set...WellStar can now bypass zoning and build whatever they want wherever they want. This will affect many more Cobb residents in the future. Just wit and see...

This is NOT just another zoning spat. It is an abuse of power pure and simple. If Cobb County citizens don't stand up to the Hospital Authority now and stop this, the future impact to our community will be much greater than most realize.

Reminds me a bit of the Cobb EMC debacle. Is Dwight Brown on the Hospital Authority Board? Just curious...
Bob Bummer
November 15, 2012
Speaking of Brown has he been found guilty yet?
December 06, 2012
I agree with the trickery used but I agree with the NIMBY comment as well

Im an East Cobber myself , yet the reason for all the traffic is because nothing is here!! , no hopsitals , No shopping centers , No best buy. We have to travel one side of the county to the other in order to get anything. All this NIMBY stuff has caused this!

A medical facily will create jobs both in consrtuction , it will increase local business for resturants with all the construction workers followed by the medical staff.

In short for the most part it will improve the local economy. What is wrong with that, Oh thats right you dont need anymore money , well sell your house and move 20 more miles out, cause this guy needs the money and the business.
A few facts...
November 14, 2012
First- to the MDJ reporter Ms. Isaza- Wellstar decided who was to be allowed to speak at their meeting. The reason more people did not speak out against this is because they have always controlled which opinions were aired. To create the image of three "happy supporters" to one disgruntled is dubious at best.

Second- the only support for this IS from biased sell outs, such as Owen Brown. He has decided that the couple extra dollars in rent are worth selling his soul. The SHAM of the Advisory Committee has always been made up of exactly this sort of conflicted individual.

Mr. Wallace did correctly state that this is not about anti-development. This is about REAL concerns for the children that walk to the 3 schools within yards of this site. If Wellstar develops an entrance on Providence Road, children and neighbors will be hurt. Without question.

Mr. Ott and Ms. Birrell should take up the torch to make sure the real needs of the community are met here- this WILL be an election issue if not.

Wellstar has had plenty of opportunity to memorialize their intent to stay off of Providence Road. They should, immediately.
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