Naples Community Hospital will begin working on a site plan for its new heart institute after Naples City Council approved its request to amend the public service zoning ordinance Wednesday.
NCH has gone back and forth with the city for a year to get permission to build a new five-story heart institute, replacing the current Telford building south of Downtown Baker Hospital, along with a parking garage. In June 2021, the city adopted a limit of building height in commercial zoning districts of three floors. Therefore, to avoid this restriction, NCH requested community hospitals be added to the conditional uses of a public service district, allowing an excess of three stories as long as it is compatible with adjacent buildings and the height is needed to achieve the intended purpose.
For the heart institute to be a community hospital it must meet a handful of criteria including being a nonprofit, locally operated charity aimed to serve the community with specialized services.
In June, the Planning Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend approval of adding community hospitals as a conditional use for a public service district. Last month council reviewed the first reading of the ordinance and Wednesday night was the second reading.
Council member Raymond Christman asked for a more definite timeline of the project as a whole.
“The reason I’m asking this question, it’s not for my own interest or perhaps council’s interest, but you know I think the public is very interested in all this,” Christman said. “These are going to be the details that really matter to all of us in terms of seeing what’s really envisioned here.”
Paula McMichael, vice president of Naples-based developers Hole Montes, told council the developers haven’t begun the official site plan process yet, but it will take around six months.
Not having evaluated the details of the project from an expert point of view as a city is a concern of council member Beth Petrunoff.
“We’re giving away something that voters had said they don’t necessarily want on height, and I want to make sure we’re making a balanced and fully informed decision and I don’t know if anybody else has hospital experience [on council] but I do not. So it’s very hard to understand,” Petrunoff said.
Naples City Planner Erica Martin referred to a previous workshop with NCH discussing why five stories are needed in order to properly house equipment. Petrunoff went on to say that she’d like to see an unbiased explanation of the height request, but City Manager Jay Boodheshwar thinks that would be premature.
“I think we’re going to have to rely on the architects and the petitioner to provide some of that information or to provide that information make their argument, but it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t engage with a subject matter expert to peer review. It’s really up to you if that’s something that you feel necessary to do, but I would recommend that we wait,” Boodheshwar said. “Let’s see what the proposal is, let’s see what the height looks like, let’s see what the space needs are before you make that decision. But I think the intent is to be collaborative.”
Christman expressed, moving forward, the height of the building is not the only thing for council to focus on. He said NCH should keep in mind how the building would impact the intensity of the area and how the rezoning could have implications for future development. It is unknown at this point if NCH will request to make the entire site a public service zone or if it is limited to the footprint of the future heart institute.
“We keep coming back to height, but its height and intensity and density now and in the future that is on I would argue the public’s mind, the public that particularly resides in the broader neighborhood that is around the hospital,” Christman said.
Council voted unanimously to add community hospitals as a conditional use of a public service district. NCH has submitted a petition for preliminary design review which will be heard Nov. 18. The hospital noted they will bring the rezoning, conditional use and site plan requests to staff all at once to be heard by the planning advisory board.