Mayor to discuss bridge proposal
by Nikki Wiley
March 22, 2014 04:00 AM | 3927 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.
A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.
MARIETTA — Residents concerned about a WellStar Health System proposal to expand Kennestone Hospital and erect a pedestrian bridge over Church Street will get their chance to ask questions on Monday.

Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin will conduct a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 205 Lawrence St.

During that meeting, WellStar will make a presentation about its plans for Kennestone, which include a new emergency department and a connecting sky bridge. Residents will be able to ask WellStar questions and address questions to Tumlin and Councilman Andy Morris, who represents the area.

The issue came to light when WellStar filed an application earlier this month for an easement to build the proposed 20-foot sky bridge across Church Street connecting the hospital’s existing surgery department to the new emergency department planned to be built between Church, Cherokee and Cherry streets.

The city has no control over construction of a new building because the proposed site is owned by the Cobb County Kennestone Hospital Authority, a government entity that is exempt from city zoning regulations.

Homeowners in the historic Church Street neighborhood have said they were taken aback by WellStar’s plans and felt their input should have been sought earlier in the planning process.

Tumlin said there needs to be more communication between the health system and its neighbors, and the town hall meeting is an opportunity to encourage that dialogue.

“The bridge and the growth of WellStar brings concerns, but people also just want to know what’s going on,” Tumlin said.

He’s generally supportive of the bridge plan, “But it’s got to be sensitive to the needs that people are raising,” Tumlin said.

Still, more designs need to be presented to give the community a clearer picture of what is being considered.

“We’ve got the best hospital around, and we’ve got the best neighborhoods, and we want to make sure they can live together,” Tumlin said.

WellStar officials have said the proposed expansion is the result of continued growth at Kennestone.

Neighbors contend they want Kennestone to thrive and hope to see the city of Marietta benefit from the hospital’s success, but they say their neighborhood should still be protected.

“My concern is that we live on a street that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and when you drive down that street, you’re going to see that bridge going right across Church Street,” said Katie Sanstead, who has lived on Church Street for five years.

She was one of the 17 residents who attended a March 5 meeting of City Council when the decision was made to postpone a vote on the easement and hold a town hall meeting to gather feedback.

“We live here. We work here. It’s our homes,” Sanstead said. “It’s very important that the council listens to us.”

Cindy Dye held a meeting in her home recently, hosting about 50 neighbors and three councilmen, including Stuart Fleming, Grif Chalfant and Andy Morris.

A great discussion took place at the meeting, Dye said, but residents still feel more information is needed.

“There’s just not enough information that the hospital has put out to vote on something like this,” Dye said.

She’d like to see the hospital withdraw its application for the easement from the city. It’s about gaining more information, Dye said, not stopping the hospital in its tracks.

“We don’t want to hamper the growth of the hospital,” Dye said.

WellStar officials were not available for a telephone interview Friday.

“WellStar is committed to working with the community and neighbors to foster continued communication,” said Dan Woods, president of WellStar Kennestone Regional Medical Center, in a prepared statement.

“Patient care has been and will remain our number one priority. With more than 125,000 emergency visits a year, WellStar Kennestone Hospital has the busiest emergency department in the state. As the health care needs of our community have changed and grown, WellStar Kennestone Hospital needs to grow as well. At the town hall meeting, leaders from WellStar Kennestone Regional Medical Center will present the proposed project and answer questions from city leaders and the community. We look forward to sharing our plans.”

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