ENCINITAS — Despite objections by some neighbors, City Council denied an appeal of the Planning Commission decision allowing a major expansion of Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas on May 13.
The 4-1 vote clears the way for the hospital to begin construction on what it calls a “long-awaited” project. “With triple-digit population growth it is no surprise that the hospital needs to expand,” Ron MacCormick, the Scripps Memorial chief of staff, told the commission at its April 3 meeting. “This is truly for the greater good.”
The plan calls for an expansion from the current 333,380-square-foot facility to 874,692 square feet on the 28-acre hospital campus. Hospital officials have said that the current facility does not meet the demand for services.
Built in the 1960s, the aging hospital has not been able to accommodate the growing need for services according to officials.
The five-phase expansion includes a parking structure and medical office buildings, increasing the size of the emergency department, reconfiguration of the main entryway on Santa Fe Drive with new lanes and gates, a roof-top helipad atop a three-story critical care building and a three-story acute care building.
The hospital is bordered by Devonshire Drive to the west, I-5 to the east and Santa Fe Drive to the south.
During the last phases of construction, two buildings would reach 59 feet above grade level, making them the tallest in the city. In phase four of the construction, a westward expansion of the main hospital building with a three-story, 78,000-square-foot critical care building is planned.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she voted against the motion because it did not take the long-term impacts on the neighborhood into consideration. She stressed that she was not opposed to the expansion project itself.
Barth proposed an alternative motion that would have made minor changes without holding up the project. “I felt that my motion to approve the Scripps Master Plan with two minor modifications was a fair compromise,” she said after the meeting. “The two changes would not have delayed the project or cost Scripps any additional funding but would have addressed the neighbors’ concerns.”
Barth’s motion would have removed the requirement for an assessment district — additional fees on property taxes — for the neighboring property owners so that if the $175,000 Scripps is required to pay for traffic calming along Devonshire is insufficient, then private neighborhood property owners would not have to pay the additional cost. The city is responsible for determining the impacts of the increased traffic on the neighborhood and would have been responsible for covering any additional costs for traffic calming measures.
“The impact of a regional hospital should not be financially shouldered by one neighborhood,” Barth said. Staff assured the council that the funds would be sufficient for measures taken currently. However, Barth said her motion was forward-looking. “This may not be enough money in 15 years.”
Another point of contention with the surrounding neighbors was the timing of constructing a privacy wall along Devonshire Drive between the neighborhood and the hospital. “The way the conditions read are too open ended,” Barth said. “I wanted it to be time-certain.”
Scripps is not required to build the wall until at least 18 months after the time the traffic impacts to the neighborhood occur according to the approved plans. Gina Renteria said she supports the hospital expansion project, but with reasonable conditions. The Devonshire Drive resident asked the council to require Scripps to build the wall before undertaking construction, banning residential street parking by hospital visitors and eliminating lighted toll booth structures.
Deputy Mayor Dan Dalager had little to say about the impacts to the neighborhood. “I think it’s a good plan,” he said. “I think it’s what we’ve got to do and I’m going to vote for it.”