Originally created 06/02/06

Rezoning is approved for center



Approval of a medical campus in the Greenbrier area of Evans cleared the first hurdle Thursday with rezoning approval by the Columbia County Planning Commission.

If the rezoning ultimately is approved by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, the campus will be owned and operated by the Medical College of Georgia Physicians Practice Group on 57.88 acres of land near the intersection of Washington and Knob Hill Farm roads.

Scott Nichols, a commercial agent with Leading Edge Real Estate, said PPG's option to buy the land is contingent on the county rezoning the parcel from its current Residential-Agricultural zoning to P-1, office professional.

The rezoning request moves to the Columbia County Commission for final approval at its June 20 meeting.

Once the rezoning is finalized, Mr. Nichols said he expects the sale to be completed within 30 days.

Dr. Curt M. Steinhart, the president and CEO of PPG, told planning commissioners the campus initially will house doctors' offices and a diagnostic imaging and treatment center totaling between 16,000 and 30,000 square feet.

He said a certificate of need would be required, because of the cost of hospital equipment and construction, before ground could be broken but hoped that once the certificate is acquired, the initial phase would take 16 months to 24 months to build.

A certificate of need is a state license required to add hospital beds and expensive medical equipment to a state-determined hospital service area. The state requires one if a project's cost exceeds $1.2 million, Dr. Steinhart said.

Other possible activities at the campus, such as an ambulatory surgical center, radiation therapy or cardiac cathaterization also would require certificates of need, said Rob Rozier, the executive director of the Division of Health Planning in the Georgia Department of Community Health.

"Just building a medical office building doesn't require a CON," Mr. Rozier. "But if they were going to put a surgery center or something like that inside of it, that would require a CON."

If they decide to put in an ambulatory surgery center, things could get more complicated. The certificate process allows competitors to file objections to the project, and they often do, Mr. Rozier said.

"In no area of the state right now do we have a calculated need for ambulatory surgery operating rooms" to be added, he said. The proposed project would have to meet one of the exceptions.

"There are exceptions for geographic accessibility, cost of the services you're going to provide and financial access," Mr. Rozier said. "If you can show that the individuals you're going to serve aren't being served elsewhere because they're indigent or charity care patients, then you can argue for an exception even though there's no need."

You do not need a certificate of need to buy land, he said.

Dr. Steinhart said he does not know whether a surgical center will be built at the site.

"It remains to be seen," he said, adding consultants are analyzing the possibility. "We're part of the MCG Health system and we have to understand how that (surgical care center) could impact other parts of our health system, so I think to say we'll definitely do that would be misleading, but to say we'd never consider it would be equally misleading."

Reach J. Scott Trubey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 109, or jeffery.trubey@augustachronicle.com. Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.