FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Allen County is on its way to getting a third major hospital campus.
Allen County Commissioners Friday unanimously approved a rezoning request from IU Health to build a medical campus on 137 acres off I-69 in southwest Allen County that will rival long-time medical giants, Parkview Health and Lutheran Health Network.
The plans call for a 150-foot tall medical building, similar in height to other medical centers here, a 75-foot tall cancer center and six buildings 50 feet high when zoning allows for 40-foot tall buildings. The complex is in the 9600 block of Lower Huntington Road, near Airport Expressway and I-69.
Friday’s unanimous vote wasn’t a sure thing.
Local residents who quickly built a coalition called WEBB Environmental or Wetlands, Eagles Bats and Butterflies after a January Plan Commission meeting were present at Friday’s Commissioners’ meeting and continue to have a range of concerns including building so close to Little River Valley and disrupting wetlands and a wildlife habitat and disturbing Native American ground that could contain a Native American a burial ground.
However, the Department of Natural Resources did not present any objections, Nelson Peters, Commissioners president, said, nor did anyone from the Fort Wayne International Airport nearby. Having a medical complex so near would not disrupt airport radar or signals, Peters said.
Andy Boxberger, IU Health attorney, spoke to media after the commissioners meeting, pleased that the zoning approval was granted. Now it’s up to IU Health to work with the Plan Commission to develop the site. The site was partially rezoned in 2006 to encourage some type of commercial development.
Boxberger said a medical office complex is already under construction and should be finished at the end of this year.
“We’re excited about the project and the opportunity. We think it’s a great decision for the community,” Boxberger said. Addressing concerns about this property being a Native American historical site, Boxberger said he’d been in contact with the Department of Natural Resources that oversees such properties.
“Obviously we want to do what’s best and what’s required for the community and to preserve history,” Boxberger said. “We did discover that the project is 100% compliant with current and future development, that there’s nothing that’s needed to be done. In an effort to be a good steward, IU Health is investigating hiring an archeologist to investigate the site to see if that the appropriate step to take.”
An archeologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources told WEBB that there are four previously recorded archaeological sites that “must be avoided or subjected to further archaeological investigations even if privately funded, pursuant to state statutes,”
Cathy Draeger-Williams, DNR Archaeologist said a state caveat requires that ” if artifacts or human remains are uncovered, work must stop,” but based on DNR records, there is not a recorded burial there.
“However, these sites do need further study if they are to be impacted by any ground disturbance. We also don’t have all sites or burials/cemeteries recorded,” Draeger Williams said.
Andrea Milliman, who lives relatively close to IU Health’s site, said WEBB will confer with its attorney to see what steps they might take.
“It’s not the result we were wanting, not what we were expecting,” Milliman said after the meeting. “We were hoping with some of the other rezoning decisions that have been made, with knowing that the comprehensive plan is going to come up for review, we were thinking that maybe they would hold off on voting for this particular one until the comprehensive plan is relooked at this summer.”
Michelle Woods with the Plan Commission went through the project, reiterating the county planners’ approval that some kind of development for the property had been included in a comprehensive land use study in 2006. Concern for residential housing nearby will be addressed by building the taller buildings closer to the major highway, away from that development, Woods said.
The plan prohibits some developments like a truck stop or a home improvement store, Woods said.
Given the property’s proximity to I-69, a major highway that the other two medical complexes easily access, planners don’t see that the development would negatively affect the area’s character or property values, Woods said.
The concern about destroying wildlife habitat was addressed by Boxberger after the meeting.
“We voluntarily agreed to certain restrictions at that site, to limit development of that site, and to limit allowed uses. There will be lot of green space and natural development within that development,” Boxberger said.