The city's planning committee easily approved a plan Monday to use land owned by a nearby golf club to expand the parking lot at Health Sciences North.
Once the decision is ratified by city council, officials at Health Sciences North say they are anxious to get on with the job of putting an additional 965 spaces on 9.4 acres owned by the Idylwylde Golf and Country Club. That would bring the hospital's total parking spaces to 2,455 and allow patients and visitors to park closer to the building.
But before HSN buys the land, it wanted city approval for an Official Plan amendment and rezoning on the property to permit the expanded lot. Once the sale is finalized, Idylwylde will have to redesign its golf course slightly to accommodate the change.
Hospital spokesperson Dan Lessard said they weren't releasing the sale price of the land or cost estimates for the parking lot until the tendering process is complete and they have a contract in place.
“You don't want to compromise the bidding process and you want to get the best value for the dollar,” Lessard said, when asked why the details are being kept secret. “We wouldn't release any of those figures.”
The hospital initially planned to build a multi-level parking structure, but abandoned the idea due to higher-than-expected cost estimates. Lessard disputed reports the structure could have cost more than $20 million – saying that was on the high end of a range of rough estimates – but said the current plan will be less expensive than a garage.
“When you build on the surface, it's cheaper to build and maintain.”
Patients and visitors have made it clear to HSN officials the current situation forces them to park their vehicles too far away.
“This is really driven by the need to have more patients and visitors able to park closer to the hospital,” he said. “Because depending on what time of day you arrive, you can end up quite a distance away from the actual building.”
Staff will also benefit, he said, because they won't have to park off-site. While not giving any timelines, Lessard said they want to begin construction as soon as possible. The first step will be completing the purchase of the land.
“From there we can look at developing the plans and starting construction,” he said. “As soon as the process will allow us, we'd like to start work on that property. But there's no firm timeline right now.”
While approval from the planning committee was quick, there were questions about the additional storm water runoff that would be created by the parking lot. Lawyer Mac Sinclair, who represented the Idylwylde at the meeting, said the concerns would have to be addressed in the site plan agreement before construction begins. But he's aware of the importance of the issue in the community.
“We'll use the best practices to ensure a minimal amount of stormwater runoff gets into the lake,” he said.