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Citing mounting costs, Beaufort Memorial Hospital has decided to expand its services in southern Beaufort County by building in an unincorporated part of Okatie, rather than on a 20-acre parcel in Bluffton.
After months of negotiations to build a new medical-arts facility in the town, the nonprofit hospital is pursuing a similar-sized property at U.S. 278 and S.C. 170. The land is owned by the Sembler Co., which backed away from a large commercial development it planned there after a controversy arose over tax incentives it was seeking, along with questions about the environmental impact.
Beaufort Memorial now will seek to build there, instead of on a site at U.S. 278 and Buckwalter Parkway, within the town's Buckwalter planned unit development.
Planners and engineers are preparing a blueprint for a 60,000-square-foot building to house the hospital's existing Bluffton staff, with room for expansion that could include as much as 140,000 square feet, according to hospital marketing director Nora Kresch.
Beaufort Memorial currently leases space for outpatient services at a building in a building in Westbury Park on Buck Island Road and is "bursting at the seams," said hospital board of trustees chairman Jerry Schulze.
The hospital decided against the Buckwalter Parkway site after realizing the land preparation and a likely year-long wait for permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build near a wetlands crossing would be too expensive, Schulze added.Paying for infrastructure and access to the new site will cost less, Schulze said.
Access to the Buckwalter site from U.S. 278 had also promised to become a costly problem. A traffic plan approved by County Council would have required the hospital to pay for a frontage road and a new roundabout at Buckwalter Parkway that would have cost $800,000 to $1 million, Schulze said.
"It wasn't a deal-killer, but it just added one more cost," Schulze said. "We started looking for a new place in late spring when it was becoming obvious that every time we turned around, there was another cost we hadn't anticipated."
Schulze said negotiations with the Sembler Co. to purchase the new site are in the final stages. Construction is slated for 2012.
It is unlikely the hospital will reconsider, he said.
Attempts this week to reach Beaufort Memorial chief executive officer Rick Toomey for comment were unsuccessful. The developer of the rejected property, Tom Zinn of Buckwalter Commercial LLC, said the traffic access and permit approvals could be resolved by the town, county and state Department of Transportation working together. Zinn said the rejected parcel belongs to a company controlled by the Morris family, which also owns Bluffton Today.
The roundabout isn't needed for the first phase of the project, he added.
"It was such a home run for Beaufort Memorial to be located at this site," Zinn said. "There were two hindrances ... neither of which I believe were insurmountable at all."Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said the town has written a letter asking hospital officials to reconsider and expressing its willingness to "come to the table."
There was no reply, she said.
"Other than that I don't know what we can do," she said. "Even though it was in the town limits, they had a lot of things they had to work through with the county."
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.