Medical Modifications

Tucson Medical Center hosts meetings to discuss major changes to its campus

Tucson Medical Center is moving forward with major changes to its campus, and as part of that process, the hospital is preparing a Planned Area Development (PAD) rezoning application. Some of TMC's neighbors are concerned about potential traffic impacts, the preservation of existing historic structures and future uses for the land.

At a meeting attended by 30 people a few weeks ago, TMC Senior Vice President Jack Jewett said: "After we go through this process, we hope the Tucson mayor and council can say: 'This is pretty good.'"

To accomplish that goal, six meetings with the hospital's neighbors will be held in the coming months to discuss the range of topics to be covered by the PAD application. The first meeting, tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26, in the hospital's Marshall Auditorium, will review land-use options, while an early August meeting will focus on traffic impacts.

Last year, representatives of St. Joseph's Hospital began devising a PAD application for its 55-acre campus near a residential area east of Wilmot Road. Wishing to increase the facility's future square footage by about 50 percent and to allow taller structures, hospital officials worked closely with their neighbors.

"It's really important to have one person keep track of things," says Jane Toubassi of the El Gecko Neighborhood, which abuts St. Joseph's. "The PAD was one inch thick, and changes kept being made to it which were hard to check. That's kind of a painstaking task."

The draft St. Joseph's PAD showed building heights ranging from 25 to 90 feet and the campus divided into either a high-rise, multi-use area, or mid-rise office development. The laundry list of uses permitted by the city's Land Use Code in these two zones was whittled down to exclude some undesirable uses, and Toubassi and her neighbors were satisfied with the recommendations.

But just before the application was to be submitted to the city for review, a private developer proposed an assisted-living center and single-family homes on hospital property adjacent to the neighborhood, an idea which would have required last-minute changes to the draft PAD.

Some alarmed El Gecko residents objected, and the proposal quickly disappeared. Because of that, the rezoning was unanimously approved by the City Council in February.

"It was late in the process, and people were concerned about the height of the assisted-living center," Toubassi remembers. "It would have looked over the (nearby) houses. Traffic and noise from it weren't too much of a problem, but its height and density were."

Even though the assisted-living center idea was scrapped, Toubassi believes it hasn't gone away for good. "I think it will resurface down the line," she predicts.

Unlike St. Joseph's, the TMC campus is separated from most of its residential neighbors by major streets. But like St. Joseph's officials, TMC officials are looking to expand the types of services offered at the site, making it more of a higher-density, one-stop shop for medical services.

Assisted-living units are only one of the potential uses being considered by TMC representatives as they seek to redesign their 116-acre campus. The hospital has already secured approval from the City Council to replace many of the existing one-story buildings with structures between 28 and 150 feet in height, and most attention so far has been focused on a new hospital located in a high-rise tower (See "Medical Melodrama," Currents, April 14, 2005).

Once that building is completed sometime after 2010, and the existing hospital is demolished, TMC will have a large area of land near the intersection of Grant and Craycroft roads available for redevelopment. The uses of that property will be one of the issues discussed at the next PAD planning session.

"We're looking at medically related uses for that land, like medical offices," says Julia Strange, a TMC spokeswoman. Other ideas for the site include assisted living, a place for family members of patients to stay and a fitness center. "Maybe even a durable-goods store for medical supplies," Strange adds.

With structures for these uses allowed to be up to 100 feet tall, a high-density medical mall near the corner of Grant and Craycroft is a possibility. Dennis Olson, president of the nearby Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association, says it's important to keep the word "medical" in that term.

"One thing we are interested in is keeping that land medically oriented," Olson says, "and not retail stores."

Olson thinks the uses listed by Strange are acceptable. "Personally," he says, "an assisted-living center would seem appropriate. The campus is large enough for it."

Olson insists that the PAD for Tucson Medical Center mimic the St. Joseph's PAD by including "an architectural review board that will monitor all future development and will include at least two residents from the surrounding neighborhoods."

"That's absolutely essential," Olson says. "(The new TMC campus) should be pleasing to the eye and represent the community instead of being an eyesore."

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