The Colorado Springs Planning Commission approved a bundle of agenda items last week that will allow Penrose-St. Francis Health Services to move yet another step closer to building a third hospital campus, this one at the northeast corner of West Fillmore Street and Centennial Boulevard — a project that isn’t sitting well with some area residents.
The April 20 planning commission meeting resulted in eight commissioners (Ray Walkowski recused himself due to being an area resident) voting unanimously to approve a minor amendment, a major amendment, and a zone change relating to the project.
The two amendments allow a 27.79-acre property adjacent to the proposed hospital site to be included in the concept and master plans, bringing the total footprint of the development to 78.84 acres. The zone change allows for planned unit development (hospital, office, medical office and general commercial) throughout the expanded parcel, limits the gross floor area for all buildings to 1.85 million square feet and reduces the maximum height of the main hospital building from 200 feet to 165 feet.
While these measures must now be approved by Colorado Springs City Council, their passage brings Penrose-St. Francis a step closer to building the planned $550 million campus, which is set to include a 775,000-square-foot main hospital, 200,000 square feet of medical office space, a large parking structure and 23 acres of open space.
Penrose-St. Francis CEO Margaret Sabin said that the company began considering expansion years ago, as Penrose Hospital was nearing capacity at its 20-acre location in the Old North End.
“It’s a postage stamp,” she said. “We are not able to grow, nor are we able to modify it in any way that we can continue to fulfill our existing mission to the community.”
The next phase of planning for the new campus hinges on Penrose-St. Francis’ purchase of the 28-acre asphalt batch plant property currently owned by Martin Marietta Materials Inc. — a sale the health services company expects to close sometime in the next 60 days. Penrose-St. Francis administrators became interested in acquiring the additional property after reductions in maximum building height caused them to rethink the campus with shorter, wider structures.
When planning for the new medical campus began in 2015, Sabin said the organization’s hopes to use the property at Fillmore and Centennial seemed “compromised by the existence of the batch plant.”
“It was the dream of generations before us that that batch plant be moved,” Sabin said. “This team has made it a reality, and now it’s moving. That’s something we’re very excited about and very proud of.”
As the new Penrose-St. Francis project began to gain more traction — receiving funding last year from parent company Catholic Health Initiatives — Chief Operating Officer Lonnie Kramer said that hospital representatives began seeking input from area residents and 19 homeowners associations. Late last year, the Colorado Springs Council of Neighbors & Organizations helped the parties form a working group that he said has helped reshape the proposed development to make more sense in its setting.
“Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and the Mesa Neighborhood Working Committee are committed to a partnership of collaboration in the design and construction of an aesthetically pleasing, world-class medical campus,” according to the group’s statement of intent. “Minimizing the impact to the character of the Mesa is a priority, while also complementing the character of the surrounding area by preserving and enhancing its natural amenities, views and aesthetics. The end result will be a campus the community can be proud of, as it propels health care in the Pikes Peak region to a new level of excellence.”
But area residents such as Roseanne Ost, who has lived in the nearby Holland Park neighborhood for more than 10 years, said that she and many of her neighbors weren’t included in discussions related to the issues despite their close proximity to the site.
“I feel late to the table,” Ost said.
Her opinions about the project are common among area residents and boil down to two major issues: aesthetic integrity and traffic flow.
“The height of the building is a concern to me — 165 feet standing atop a mesa just doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “I’m concerned that it will block our beautiful view of Pikes Peak … and I’m concerned about the traffic in my peaceful neighborhood.”
Gary Bradley, who lives in the nearby Kissing Camels neighborhood, also spoke in opposition due to the same concerns — as well as issues such as noise and light pollution.
“The city has been very, very diligent in limiting high-rises to the core area,” Bradley said. “I think this would be an intrusion on the backdrop that we value in this community and to the dark skies at night.”
Despite concerns from the community, hospital and city officials seem confident they can overcome such obstacles with a series of improvements and a building design that is easy on the eyes.
“Our intent is that it adds to and blends into the community in which it lives,” Sabin said.
Kathleen Krager, the city’ traffic engineering manager, said that traffic flow is less of a challenge than many think and that congestion at the intersection of Fillmore and Centennial will be relieved by as many as 8,000 vehicles (around 40 percent of current daily traffic) when the city completes a planned extension of Centennial to West Fontanero Street, which is expected to be done in the next three years.
“[Penrose main] has been truly smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Krager said. “Now we are putting it at the corner of two arterial streets, and I find that to be a much more appropriate transportation system to support a hospital.”
Krager said roadwork on Highway 24 and Colorado Avenue will also help ease traffic in the area.
“I’m pleased with how we’re able to accommodate this hospital at this site,” she added.