A room full of concerned citizens that voiced sometimes emotional pleas for the Centennial City Council to delay approval for a new medical facility ran up against the council's legal inability to intervene.
At a city council meeting Nov. 13, …
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At a city council meeting Nov. 13, audible groans and a shout from the audience punctuated frustration from the crowd over what they felt is an unsafe — and even deadly — plan for the new facility, which would be called either the Dry Creek Family Emergency Center or the Centennial Family Emergency Center.
The council approved the plan at the meeting. The center could open in 2018, with an eight-month construction period that would likely start in early 2018.
“How are you going to feel if more people are killed on this road now that you know about it?” said Mary Sedivy, who lives in a neighborhood near the proposed site of the new 24/7 emergency room center. Sedivy, like the eight other residents who spoke at the meeting about the plan, had concerns about aggravating traffic at what they said is an already dangerous intersection at East Dry Creek Road and South Colorado Boulevard.
But the city attorney explained at length before citizens got up for public comment that city council could only approve the medical center's design plan or deny it and allow for changes — it couldn't declare that a medical center can't be built there altogether.
That's because the city has already decided the property's zoning, which defines what can be built on the lot. Those criteria were updated in 2015, the city attorney said. The city's Planning and Zoning Commission already approved the medical center's site plan as being in accordance with the city's design requirements based on its land development code. The council was legally required to give final approval if it didn't find conflict between the plan and those design requirements — things like how tall a building is, its parking structure and so on.
According to the city's online traffic count data, the intersection at East Dry Creek Road and South Colorado Boulevard is not among the busiest major intersections in Centennial. Points along East Smoky Hill Road, South Buckley Road, East County Line Road, South University Boulevard and several points along East Arapahoe Road outpace it by thousands of cars per day.
The city has said that compared to other possible businesses, putting a medical facility of that nature at the site would be the least traffic-intensive use for the area.
A traffic study on the area did not show a need for added traffic lights or widened lanes based on the impact the facility would have, said Allison Wittern, spokeswoman for the city.
But residents are still concerned about traffic, partly because a gas station sits immediately north of the site, and partly because of accidents they say people they know have experienced in that area. They also raised the potential issue of people driving while panicked, rushing to the emergency room to get help for someone hurt.
“The drivers going west on Dry Creek are not conscious or (are unaware) that we have a dedicated turn lane,” said Marjorie Lell of the Bella Vista neighborhood, which can only be entered on westbound East Dry Creek Road through East Hinsdale Circle. One of the entrances is close to the proposed emergency room site, and residents expressed worry about traffic backing up enough to cause problems.
Access to the site would be limited to a right-turn entry and right-turn exit on East Dry Creek Road, and one right-turn entry on South Colorado Boulevard. Barring left-hand turns in or out is better for safety, the city said. Traffic concerns persist, though.
“I have observed a lot of traffic issues created even by the Alta gas station store that's right next to where the planned ER complex will be,” said Kenneth Anderson, who has lived in the nearby Vista Pointe neighborhood for more than 10 years. “I find the traffic truly to be a hazard for all of us trying to enter and exit both at Bella Vista and Vista Pointe.”
City council largely appeared concerned with the public's comments, but ultimately expressed that it didn't have the power to address them.
“A lot of times, our hands are tied,” said Mayor Cathy Noon. “Personal property rights are near and dear to me because if we take away property rights from (this business), what stops us from taking your personal property rights away?”
The city also said improperly halting the process for the medical center to open would invite a lawsuit that would cost taxpayer dollars. That elicited a shout from the audience: “What is the cost of a human life?”
Councilmembers Candace Moon, C.J. Whelan and Carrie Penaloza voted for a motion to hold another public hearing on Dec. 11 about the site plan, but the rest of the body voted it down, noting that council would still not be able to deny the medical center applicant's already approved use of the property even if that hearing happened.
The site plan passed with only Penaloza of District 2 voting no.
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