This time Kennestone will play host. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22, in the Kennestone Auditorium at the hospital, 677 Church St., Marietta.
The town hall will come about a month after Mayor Steve Tumlin had a similar meeting at City Hall, giving Church Street residents a chance to ask questions and settle their differences with the hospital that has proposed an expansion including construction of a new two-story, 80,750-square-foot emergency department, parking deck and bridge across the historic street.
But that meeting didn’t do the trick. Residents told City Council members at a Wednesday meeting a timeout should be called, giving neighbors more time to learn about the proposal and WellStar more time to answer questions.
Church Street homeowners argue the bridge clashes with their historic neighborhood. They also have voiced concerns that a new emergency department, proposed to be built between Church, Cherry and Cherokee streets, would create a traffic nightmare in their community.
City Council voted 6-1 on Wednesday to postpone making a ruling for the second time, though many council members said they weren’t optimistic another month would make a difference for the hospital or its naysayers. Councilman Andy Morris, who represents Church Street, cast the lone dissenting vote and declined to comment on his decision following Wednesday’s meeting.
WellStar’s request is for an easement to air rights above Church Street that would enable the construction of the controversial two-story pedestrian bridge connecting to Kennestone’s existing surgery department.
To build the bridge, WellStar needs City Council to grant an easement, but the city’s authority over the project ends there. The proposed site is owned by the Cobb County Kennestone Hospital Authority, a government entity immune from city zoning regulations. Though it’s exempted from taxes and zoning rules, the authority has voluntarily subjected itself to zoning in the past.
Mayor hopes road projects ease worries
Tumlin said the first portion of the town hall meeting will be a presentation from city staff about special purpose location option sales tax projects including projects proposed and those already underway — that could help alleviate fears about the potential for traffic gridlock around the new emergency department.
Intersection improvements are planned for several streets that connect to Allgood Road and Kennestone Avenue, Tumlin said, which could have a ripple effect reaching Kennestone.
“Even if WellStar did not lay another brick for several years, they’re going to grow and there’s going to be traffic in that area,” Tumlin said. “Hopefully there will be choices made that will mitigate some of those concerns.”
Tumlin agrees with homeowners who want to see an increase in communication. If the city had more insight into WellStar’s plans, Tumlin said, council members could have considered the hospital’s expansion when it developed the list of projects that will be included under the SPLOST referendum that may go to voters in November.
“Communication is good for all of us,” Tumlin said. “If we saw they were going a certain way, we could put in a short street here or there. We all need to be involved in the planning.”
Still, Tumlin doubts the town hall will bring a major change, but he said it’s about “encouraging ongoing dialogue.”
“There’s not going to be some fact laid on the table where everybody’s going to get up and say, ‘Boy this is wonderful. I don’t have anything to worry about,’” Tumlin said. “There’s nothing magic.”
WellStar: We want to be a ‘good neighbor’
It can’t hurt, said John Schupp, who lives on Church Street, but “whether or not it will be beneficial or not remains to be seen.”
“We have found the hospital to be very adamant in their position and we are very adamant in our position as well,” Schupp said.
WellStar has maintained the emergency department must go on the proposed site because it is the best way to keep critical patients at an arm’s length from the hospital’s surgery department. The health system also says its easement request needs to be granted before it can finish the formal design of the new building and pedestrian bridge.
“To me that seems a little backward,” Schupp said. “You do your planning first.”
Tyler Pearson, spokesman for WellStar, said the health system will be host for the town hall because it hopes to be a good neighbor.
“It’s furthering the dialogue and the communication that we have with the community and with the neighborhood and making sure that everyone does understand the project,” Pearson said.
He, too, is uncertain that attitudes will be changed, but he said the hospital wants to show the “necessity of the project.”
“I’m not sure what the middle ground would be, but we certainly hope we can have more of a dialogue and communicate and continue to talk and really create something,” Pearson said.