More than 100 residents filled the East Park Government Center for the meeting, which was hosted by the East Cobb Civic Association. Joe Brywczynski, senior vice president health parks administrator for WellStar, gave a presentation and then fielded questions that were submitted to the ECCA.
Brywczynski dispelled some rumors, but left others up in the air. Brywczynski said the building will likely be three-stories tall, with the possibility of a fourth level in the back and below grade - not up to seven stories, as some residents had speculated. Likewise, Brywczynski said the rumor that a traffic study had been conducted over Thanksgiving weekend was not true. He said the company has not yet conducted a study on how the complex would impact traffic in the area.
Brywczynski also said the company plans to create a main entrance and a right-out, right-in-only entrance on Roswell Road, with no entrances or exits planned for Providence Road. And the 250,000-square-foot facility will sit on about 1.4 acres, while nearly 34 percent of the 23-acre tract will remain greenspace. Brywczynski said there will need to be room for at least 1,000 parking spaces, and the stream that runs through the middle of the property will remain intact. He estimated that 350 to 700 employees would work at the new park.
But the main question on everyone's minds was whether the company was going to go through the normal zoning process with the county Board of Commissioners or through the Hospital Authority. If WellStar goes through the Hospital Authority, it avoids measures such as commission stipulations and resident input that are allowed through the zoning process.
During East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott's town hall meeting Tuesday night, Ott said he was aware through talks with WellStar executives that the company had not yet decided which route it would take, and said: "We can only push so far. I intend to push it as far as I can, but if we push too hard, then they'll just go to the Hospital Authority."
When asked multiple times by residents which route the company intends to take Wednesday night, Brywczynski refused to answer, stating only that a pending appeal for a certificate of need "precludes us from discussing issues related to the certificate of need or zoning."
The system needs a certificate of need in order to go through the Hospital Authority.
WellStar received a certificate of need from the state department of community health for its proposed outpatient surgery center last September, but Northside Hospital has challenged that certificate and the first appeal hearing before an administrative law judge is set for the middle of April, WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said.
But Lee O'Neal, a resident of the Independent Square subdivision off of Providence Road, immediately adjacent to the lot, said he is a member of the 45-member Community Advisory Committee for the development and that Brywczynski and other WellStar officials told him at the latest committee meeting on March 17 that they "do intend to go through the Hospital Authority and not the normal zoning process."
O'Neal said he has stressed to the executives that residents and commissioners would like for the development to go through the zoning process, but with no luck.
"They just say that they acknowledge our concerns, but they are still going to go through the Hospital Authority. I'm not sure why Joe was avoiding the answer tonight, but that's what they have been telling us all along," O'Neal said. "We just think it's disrespectful both to the commissioners who spend a lot of time and effort on the land use map and the future growth plan of the county and protecting citizens, but also disrespectful to the people who live and work in the area."
David Blumenthal, who also lives in Independence Square, said he and other residents were disappointed with the meeting Wednesday night because many of the questions they submitted via e-mail were never presented, and the issues within many of them were never addressed.
"Traffic is going to be a huge problem both on Provide and on 120. It's already a big problem, and we didn't hear anything tonight that told us how they plan to solve it," Blumenthal.
Providence Road is a two-lane street that leads to Dodgen Middle and Walton High Schools, and is surrounded by resident subdivisions. A Goddard School daycare center currently sits at the corner.
ECCA President Jill Flamm said some repetitive questions had to be lumped together, but believed every issue raised by residents was addressed.
"We wanted to give him 45 minutes for the presentation and get as many questions in as we could," Flamm said.
One issue that was raised but not addressed by Brywczynski was the recent flux in management at WellStar. One resident questioned if moving forward with the development was prudent given the company's recent firings of various executives.
Brywczynski answered: "We're here to talk about WellStar and the health care project. We have been reassured by the board that we need to move forward, and WellStar is moving full speed ahead on this project."