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Building height requirements change, would hurt proposed health care campus

Published August 17. 2011 05:01PM

A company proposing a 35-acre health care campus in Mahoning Township is hoping that an ordinance on building height requirements will remain the same.

During the Carbon County Planning Commission's monthly meeting on Tuesday, Thomas J. Shaughnessy of J.G. Petrucci Co. Inc., of Bethlehem; and attorney Lisa A. Pereira of Broughal and Devito LLP of Bethlehem, approached the board about Coordinated Health's plan to construct a nearly 200,000-square-foot health care campus along the north side of Route 443, just west of Frederick's Grove Road. The company's preliminary subdivision plans will be formally submitted to the county and to Mahoning Township for review early next month.

The reason for representatives approaching the board is because Carbon County Planning Commission reviews all ordinance amendments in the county and approves or suggests changes to the municipality. The county was reviewing Mahoning Township's proposed zoning ordinance change at yesterday's meeting.

Pereira explained that if the ordinance changes and the height requirement is lowered to 40 feet, it would "adversely affect" projects like this, which require more height due to mechanical and operating systems being installed in various locations, including ceilings.

"You have different types of clearances (in medical facilities) that you wouldn't normally have with office buildings," she said. "It is very important that there be levels of height beyond the systems. Having a height decrease is not only going to adversely affect the types of uses like hospital uses, but also other types of things that Mahoning Township currently has in the particular zoning district. If it is decreased from 50 feet to 40 feet, it would make this project very difficult, if not nearly impossible"

Shaughnessy noted that the project would be constructed in phases and create a total of 150 jobs. The campus, which would have a building height of 48 feet, would include physician offices, an imaging center, rehabilitation center and surgical center.

Pereira added that this campus would not be competition for Blue Mountain Health System because it is not a general medical hospital and does not have a trauma center or emergency room, rather it is a specialized medical campus, dealing in orthopedics.

Currently, Coordinated Health has offices across the Lehigh Valley and Lehighton and serves over a half million patients.

Ivan O. Meixell Jr., county planner, explained to members of the commission that Mahoning Township initially increased the height requirements to 50 feet back in 2006.

He then recommended that the board vote to send an amended letter to the township asking officials to take under advisement that various projects are planned in the area that would be affected if the height requirement was lowered.

The motion passed unanimously. The county's response to the proposed ordinance amendment will now be sent to Mahoning Township for review and action.

Members of Coordinated Health, including CEO David Weikel; as well as Carly Patterson, staff engineer of Pennoni Associates of Allentown, approached the Mahoning Township Supervisors in March and discussed their plans for the proposed campus.

At that meeting, the board voted 3-0 with two supervisors absent, to present the plan to the township engineer and zoning officer for initial review and recommendations.

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