The Kalispell City Council is delaying a decision on initial approval of expansion plans for Kalispell Regional Medical Center in order to assess whether a plan for broader transportation improvements is necessary for the neighborhood surrounding the hospital.
At its Dec. 6 meeting, council members voted to table until Dec. 20 a request for a planned unit development (PUD) overlay district on 10 acres to lay the groundwork for a multi-phase expansion at KRMC over the next 10 years.
The planned improvements include: a two-story expansion of the surgical services tower; expansion of the Emergency Department, construction of a two-story parking garage between the ALERT helicopter pad and Brendan House; construction of a parking garage between KRMC and the Summit health club; completion of a recreational vehicle parking and green space, and eventually adding more floors to the surgical services tower. Construction of the surgical services tower could begin as early as December.
Ted Hirsch, a KRMC executive, told the council low labor costs and a favorable lending environment made for an ideal time to begin the long-planned expansions.
“It just seems to be exactly the right moment to get this project started,” Hirsch said.
The Kalispell planning board held a hearing on the expansion Nov. 9 and approved the PUD request, with a number of conditions, including the requirement that KRMC provide the city a plan for pedestrian and bike paths around the medical campus before issuing a building permit.
Though no one spoke up in opposition to the project at Monday’s council meeting, Margaret Davis, who lives on Charlotte Avenue, told council members she supports the hospital and its growth, but the busy medical campus needs a better traffic plan, particularly for traveling from north to south, and that now is the time to “bite the bullet.”
“There’s a need for a comprehensive traffic plan in this heavily used zone,” Davis said. “Right now this particular portion of Kalispell is isolated, even though it’s right in the middle of town.”
Davis added that she was concerned any temporary closures of Conway Drive or other streets due to construction could cause serious congestion.
Council members seemed to agree on the need for a connectivity plan involving roads, and bike and pedestrian paths. Councilman Jim Atkinson suggested KRMC may need to donate some land for a new city road.
City Manager Jane Howington suggested the planning staff write a memo for council members listing some of the existing constraints on new roads or traffic plans for the next meeting, where the council will revisit the issue.
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