Planners view early site plan for new hospital

FRONT ROYAL – Town planners took a first look this week at a long anticipated replacement for Warren Memorial Hospital.

The Planning Commission saw an early sketch for the medical center at a work session Wednesday and members already have concerns about the future project slated for land off the new Leach Run Parkway.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeremy Camp presented the preliminary site plan for the Warren Memorial replacement hospital to the panel and said he expects to receive an application in November to rezone the property for the medical facility. The plan, prepared by Valley Engineering, could change as the hospital and Valley Engineering go through the development process.

The site plan shows a proposed entrance to the hospital off Leach Run Parkway south of the driveway leading into the county’s second middle school. Leach Run Parkway cuts through the hospital property. The site plan shows an intersection at the existing entrance and Oden Street.

Planners raised questions about a long loop that leads from the proposed hospital entrance to the primary drop-off area for the facility. Darryl Merchant, geographic information system technician with the Planning and Zoning Department, commented that many hospitals, including Winchester Medical Center, use a similar design.

The early site plan reveals that the hospital would cover only a fraction of the entire 147-acre property. The plan shows an extension of the loop road that would go through a proposed second phase of the hospital campus. The town’s Planning and Zoning Department has not received plans for a second phase.

Camp told the commission he expressed concerns to the developers of the site about the property’s connectivity to the nearby land known as HEPTAD. Camp said he has strongly recommended that the hospital site connect to HEPTAD.

“They’re very hesitant to want (to) commit to that because they don’t know what HEPTAD’s uses are gonna be,” Camp said. “If there was a hotel there or something it would be a perfect fit, you know. But they’re concerned it’s gonna be something else that’s not gonna be compatible with their campus environment.”

Warren County property records show the HEPTAD property covering approximately 95 acres is zoned for a planned neighborhood development.

The town needs to look at how all the parcels fit, Merchant said.

Looking at the site plan, Chairwoman Deborah Langfitt said the new hospital design should include more parking spaces for handicapped people.

The hospital has agreed to build a traffic signal at the center’s main entrance, Camp said.

Warren Memorial Hospital bought 147 acres of vacant land for $1.3 million in May 2008. The latest real estate assessment valued the land at $2.2 million, online property records show. The entire site is zoned for agricultural use. The property is classified as agricultural/undeveloped acreage in the county’s land-use taxation program through which the assessed value and thus the tax bill is significantly reduced. Localities offer land-use taxation as an incentive to keep property in agriculture or open space. The land-use value of the hospital’s property is $47,100.

Warren County Commissioner of the Revenue Sherry Sours explained that the former owners of the property, Walter and Howard Duncan, had two parcels – one in the county, the other in town – put in land use. A boundary adjustment put both parcels in the town limits. A property remains in the program even if it changes ownership as long as the use does not change and the land continues to meet the requirements, Sours explained. The property is qualified as forestry use in the program and the owners must provide Sours’ office with a report for the land.

Warren Memorial Hospital bought the land but did not pursue the rezoning or other aspects of redeveloping the property. Instead, hospital representatives waited until the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority moved forward on the design and construction of the long-awaited Leach Run Parkway – a route needed to access the property. The EDA, the town and the county opened the Leach Run Parkway to traffic earlier this summer. The county’s second middle school, also dependant on the parkway, opened this summer.