About a dozen residents spoke, and all raised opposition to the project except one.
They claim WellStar blindsided them when it quietly sent the city a proposal to build a new two-story, 175,020-square-foot building, including an 80,750-square-foot emergency department at Kennestone Hospital, a parking deck and a pedestrian bridge across Church Street.
WellStar officials maintain they are in the early stages of planning.
Kennestone has asked the city of Marietta for an easement to build the 20-foot sky bridge across Church Street connecting the hospital’s existing surgery department to the new emergency department, planned to be built between Church, Cherokee and Cherry streets.
Marietta City Council has tabled the request twice. The last time it voted to postpone making a decision, council members said they weren’t optimistic an agreement could be reached between Church Street residents, who allege the expansion will ruin their historic neighborhood lined with expensive, sought-after homes, and the hospital, which adamantly maintains the proposal is the only way to solve the emergency department’s overcrowding problem.
The City Council’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. on May 14 at City Hall, 205 Lawrence St.
The Council doesn’t have control, however, over where the new building is constructed because it is owned by the Cobb County Kennestone Hospital Authority, a government entity that is exempt from city zoning rules.
Mayor Steve Tumlin said Tuesday the city has growing pains and the community must work together to solve them.
“I think what you’ve seen in the last six weeks is the willingness of Kennestone to work with us,” Tumlin said.
WellStar addresses traffic
Some opponents say more information is needed on how the new emergency department would affect traffic before a decision is made.
WellStar CEO Reynold Jennings told residents Tuesday night much of the traffic in the area around Kennestone is not related to the hospital. A 2004 traffic study, he said, showed 89 percent of the area traffic is not from the hospital. That same study projected that number would be 83 percent in 2030.
Jennings said the hospital’s proposed expansion would not dramatically impact that number. He maintains technological advances, such as over-the-counter diagnostic tools, are expected to decrease the demand of emergency care, and the completion of a new emergency room at Northside Hospital in Cherokee County may draw north Cobb residents to Canton, rather than Marietta, for medical care.
The relocation of Kennestone’s helipad causes hesitation for some Church Street residents, but Woods said little change should be expected because the new helipad is close to its current location and pilots would likely use the same flight path.
Marshal Dye, who challenged Councilman Andy Morris in last year’s election, told Woods he was “selling a load of crap.”
“They’re loud, they’re noisy, they’re dangerous and they hover,” Dye said. “The hover now. This weekend they were hovering over our house.”
He maintains the helipad’s new location will only make things worse.
“It’s not easy living on Church Street,” Dye said.
Jill Litton, who lives on Chicopee Street, said she is rarely disturbed by ambulance drivers or landing helicopters and supports the hospital’s plan.
“I think we should all be very happy we have that right outside our back door,” Litton said.
Other sites considered, but not feasible
Critics have also questioned what other options were considered before WellStar set its sights on the property between Church, Cherokee and Cherry streets. Some charge any hospital expansion should be directed north toward Tower Road, rather than near residential neighborhoods.
WellStar says the new building is needed to relieve its crowded existing emergency department, and its proposed location is the only place where the facility can be built to connect critical patients to the hospital’s surgery department.
Dan Woods, president of Kennestone, said Tuesday three other sites were considered.
Officials looked at an area west of the hospital’s energy plant next to the current emergency department, but scrapped the idea when it was determined it would cost $40 million to move the plant. A southwest parking lot also adjacent to the emergency room was considered, Woods said, but that location would not have allowed critical patients to efficiently be transported to surgery.
A third spot facing Church Street was considered, but it was determined to be too small for the new emergency room.
An underground tunnel has been presented as a possible alternative to the sky bridge by some residents, but Woods said that too was not feasible. He said the cost of building a tunnel would be $1,100 per square foot compared to the $365 per square foot cost of the sky bridge.