Yampa Valley Medical Center's top executive said Thursday that city policies intended to fund affordable housing, if approved in their current form, would significantly limit future expansion and services at the hospital.
Yampa Valley Medical Center is a regional referral center that serves five counties in Northwest Colorado, an area that is rapidly growing in population and increasing demand for medical care.
Karl Gills, chief executive officer at the hospital on Central Park Drive, said additional fees that could be administered by the city as part of its revised inclusionary zoning ordinance would delay or diminish the hospital's planned expansion of its obstetric wing and its surgical operating space, while also limiting the hospital's capacity to maintain technologically updated equipment and to provide charitable care for patients unable to pay for treatment. Gills said the hospital funded $3.6 million in uncompensated care during its 2006 fiscal year.
The obstetric wing provides care for pregnant women and newborns.
"Our OB business continues to grow, and we need more beds," Gills said Thursday. "Our surgical volume also continues to grow. We would like to expand both facilities at the same time ... but it could be that we can't do the project either as soon as we would like to or as extensively as we would like to."
Financial resources for those expansions, which Gills said "are just now beginning the design phase," would be reduced by a controversial linkage policy in the city's revised inclusionary ordinance, which regulates how the city provides and funds affordable housing.
Linkage would require residential and commercial developers to compensate the city, either by a fee or by construction of affordable homes, for a percentage of the market-rate housing units or employees created by their new development.
Simply put, linkage means if you build something that will bring new employees to Steamboat Springs, you have to help the city provide housing for those employees.
Large expansions to existing facilities, including single-family homes, would also be subject to linkage fees.
As the proposed ordinance is currently written, the hospital would fall under the "institutional" category of commercial uses. Other commercial-use categories are retail, office and industrial development.
"I think the council needs to look at whether they want to include institutional uses," city planning director Tom Leeson said. "Having said that, they also need to understand that institutional uses do generate employees. Exempting institutional uses from linkage would mean the council would have to mitigate those impacts in other ways."
On Tuesday night, the Steamboat Springs City Council conducted a first reading of the revised inclusionary zoning ordinance. After several hours of debate and public comment, the council tabled any action and decided to continue the first reading May 1. A second, and potentially final, reading could occur May 15.
The council has plenty of issues to discuss between now and then.
"I really am concerned about the long-term impacts of what you are proposing," Gills told the council Tuesday.
But hospital officials also recognize the need to provide affordable housing for their employees.
On Thursday, the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission will review the community housing plan for Steamboat Barn Village, a subdivision planned for a 39-acre site north of Central Park Drive and adjacent to hospital property.
Leeson said the housing plan proposes that in exchange for an access road to the subdivision on hospital property, Steamboat Barn Village would provide more than 15 transitional housing units for hospital employees.
Also Tuesday, the City Council agreed linkage fees should apply to building expansions of more than 1,200 square feet, rather than the 500 square feet initially proposed.
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