Hurdles to Gig Harbor hospital could lift

Officials anxious to build a new hospital in Gig Harbor that could provide critical care to Port Orchard residents are cautiously optimistic a developer’s challenge — which had stalled the project — has been rescinded.

Gig Harbor City Administrator Mark Hoppen this week said the city has exchanged correspondence with Dale Pinney, project manager for GHN Associates, addressing issues the developer had about traffic problems a new hospital would create in the Gig Harbor North area.

Pinney said he agreed with city officials who said they were attempting to “clarify” concerns that could pave the way for approval of an Environmental Impact Study needed to begin construction on the hospital.

Hoppen downplayed a report that the appeal would be lifted this week, but said a decision could be forthcoming “in days.”

City officials hope to rezone the area around Burnham Drive and Canterwood Boulevard so that Franciscan Health System could begin construction on a 215,000-square-foot, 80-bed, $100 million facility and medical office building, projected now to open in early 2009.

“We’re eager to build,” said Gale Robinette, media relations manager for Franciscan, which received state approval for the hospital in May 2004. “Anything that happens that would enable our project to get traction is great.”

GHN Associates LLC, an Edmonds-based company that built the Target and Albertsons stores in the Gig Harbor North area, was frustrated when city planners rejected its proposals to build a bank and medical office building after citing traffic congestion problems.

Pinney said in April that GHN supported the hospital, but wanted a “level playing field” with respect to traffic issues. The company contended Gig Harbor failed to show need for Franciscan’s medical office building, or to address the added traffic a hospital would bring to the area — as it had been required to do.

Gig Harbor city officials say they support a hospital that would bring much-needed trauma care closer to South Kitsap residents than Seattle or Tacoma, but in 2005 they acknowledged that development in the north end of the city had already created significant traffic problems.

They estimated $40 million would need to be spent on traffic improvements, including widening roads. In building St. Anthony Hospital, Franciscan would likely be responsible for about $3 to $4 million in road improvements, Robinette said.

Funding for the improvements was given a boost in Olympia this year when lawmakers approved the Growth Management Act, a bill that allows cities like Gig Harbor to bond against some sales tax revenues to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Twenty-sixth District Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, is among political leaders who have been working to clear financial hurdles that would bring the hospital — and some 450 new jobs — to the area.

“Delays cost money,” Kilmer said, adding that Gig Harbor also could get a $5 million boost from a Job Development Fund grant recommended by the state last week. “The more we can do to move this process along quickly, the better. We need a hospital. People will benefit having health care services locally.”

But GHN’s legal challenge further stalled the process. Pinney wouldn’t comment on details of the appeal or how the city was addressing his concerns.

Plans for a Costco and YMCA, among others, would add to traffic congestion in North Gig Harbor. Hoppen said the city’s ad hoc traffic committee was crunching numbers, calculating trips generated by the new development and determining capacity of the roadways.

The group planned to meet Thursday, but he declined to speculate about what would come from the meeting.

“As this melts away, we believe (GHN) will withdraw their appeal,” Hoppen said.

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