Residents near the intersection of Fillmore Street and Centennial Boulevard are imagining a structure the size of downtown’s FirstBank building near their homes.
They’re not happy about it.
And they hope that if and when Penrose-St. Francis Health Services buys the property and submits plans to build a hospital at the site, the city will reconsider the 200-foot height allowance that was approved earlier this month.
Because the hospital system is constrained in its North Nevada Avenue site by the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses, Penrose-St. Francis wants to build a hospital on the bluff across Centennial Boulevard from King Soopers. The hospital successfully requested a zoning change that would allow a 200-foot-tall building from Colorado Springs City Council earlier this month. The approval included a concept plan with three buildings totaling more than 1 million square feet.
On Dec. 8, Council approved the zoning change for the 51-acre parcel to allow the high-rise hospital to be built there, at the request of Penrose-St. Francis CEO Margaret Sabin.
“Our current campus presents a dilemma. We’re landlocked … on a 20-acre site. We refer to it as a postage stamp,” Sabin told the Council.
The approval was necessary for Penrose to move forward, said Chris Valentine, Penrose-St. Francis director of marketing and communications.
“We have not purchased any land, and we have not obtained funding to build a new hospital,” he said. “We have not hired an architect to design a hospital. All we have done is select a site that we feel would fit our needs and done our due diligence of obtaining a zoning variance prior to purchasing the land.”
“Our current campus presents a dilemma. We’re landlocked … on a 20-acre site. We refer to it as a postage stamp.”
– Margaret Sabin
Former owner Lyda Hill transferred the property to Turtle Creek Grandview Office LLC in 2003, according to the El Paso County Assessor. Turtle Creek has its principal address in Dallas, according to the Colorado Secretary of State.
The hospital’s concept plan filed with the city shows a 775,000-square-foot hospital that could rise 11-12 stories tall. The concept plan includes two other buildings, one of which will be a medical office building.
Early next year, Penrose-St. Francis will request funding from its parent company, Catholic Health Initiatives.
If approved, “then we can move forward to purchase land … with the zoning variance,” Valentine said.
A new building of that size fits the hospital’s 100-year plan, he said.
“We just didn’t want to limit our growth. Stage 1 will be in no way 200 feet tall,” but the approved height would give the hospital ‘room to grow,’ ” Valentine said. “We haven’t designed anything yet. … We are way, way early at this point.”
Cost estimates for the new hospital could be as high as $500 million in its initial phases, he said.
Homeowners in the area are concerned not only about the size of the building — but also about the land it will be standing on.
John Vandervalk and his family live on Hofstead Terrace, north of the proposed parcel. Vandervalk believes the site is plagued by erosion — and excessive rainfall accelerates landslides.
“The USGS condemned half the neighborhood for a no-build area for infinity” after the 1999 Hofstead flood, he said. “The mesa is still moving. What happens if we have more record rainfall and it slides — who foots the bill?”
During heavy rains last spring, floodwater became a river just south of his home. As a result, he is building a ditch to divert water away from his house.
His neighbor, Rhona Fletcher, doesn’t like the location Penrose is considering.
“The land instability proposes a risk to the neighborhood,” Fletcher said. “Eventually, it could be the leaning tower.”
Valentine said any geologic hazards at the site have been addressed.
“We’re completely aware of all the land issues, and we have experts at hand that will mitigate all that. Everything can be mitigated,” he said.
The city requires a drainage plan as part of the process, said Colorado Springs Principal Planner Lonna Thelen.
At the Dec. 8 City Council meeting, Councilor Bill Murray voted against the zone change and concept plan.
“I have great concerns of the variance of the height from 60 to 200 feet,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of things we could have done rather than … allow three times the variance from a 60-foot height, which we require from everybody else.”
Only one of the three buildings could rise to 200 feet, Thelen said. The other two buildings would conform to the city’s height limit.
In comparison, the Wells Fargo building downtown is about 247 feet in height; the FirstBank building is 207 feet high; and the Antlers Hotel stands roughly 160 feet tall, Thelen said. The current Penrose-St. Francis Hospital is 146 feet high.
“I feel like I’m picking a fight with Mother Teresa,” said attorney Tad Foster, addressing City Council. At his 1575 Mesa Road home, he can see the roof of the VA clinic.
“We all have to recognize that we’re probably looking at a Wells Fargo tower at the top of Fillmore Road to be seen from all directions in the city.”
Kissing Camels resident and retired nurse Yvonne Shaffer said the VA building was supposed to have been taller than 45 feet, but “it was reduced because of Pikes Peak,” she told Council. The Penrose building would be more than four times taller than the VA clinic and five times taller than nearby apartments on Centennial Boulevard.
“If we want to be known for this wonderful hospital, then so be it, but I think we want to be known for the mountain,” she said.
Sabin rebutted the comments, saying the VA clinic is not an in-patient, acute-care hospital, and that this hospital would take care of soldiers as well. Sabin also lives in Kissing Camels, where she said most homes are oriented toward the west and Pikes Peak — away from the proposed hospital site.
Murray said that approval for a 200-foot height sets a precedent for tall buildings.
“We seem to be violating our own rules,” Murray said. “I have difficulty, wondering why we can’t create three 60-foot buildings rather than one 200-foot building in that neck of the woods. You’ve got the resources. You’ve got the capability. I want you to build there, but I want you to build to the specifications we’ve given you.”