Stormwater problems, flooding sewers, already clogged streets and the need to save trees were among the concerns raised by Southland Drive area residents as they grilled health officials for details about the construction of an $11.7 million public health clinic.
The most common concern among the crowd of 70 at Rosemont Baptist Church on Thursday was reflected in the query of the last speaker of the evening. George Eades, who has lived on Rosemill Drive for 50 years, wanted to know if the clinic wouldn't help more people if it were located in the Woodhill area.
"I am unconvinced," of the need for a clinic on Southland, Eades said, as he left the meeting. "If they want to help people they need to go where the people are."
Other speakers suggested the clinic, which has a mission to help poor people, might be better on Harrodsburg or Winchester roads. Tom Burich, a HealthFirst board member, said locations all over Lexington were explored but Southland was determined to be the most appropriate for the clinic. HealthFirst is on Southland to stay, he said, and will be adding two neighborhood representatives to the permanent HealthFirst board so residents will continue to have a voice even after construction is complete.
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Thursday's meeting took a brief, testy detour as residents vocally criticized the meeting format. Burich said residents would ask their individual questions to the individual experts one-on-one after the public meeting adjourned.
Cries of "This is a democracy," "you can't divide and conquer," "you have to let us speak" rose briefly from the crowd until Burich agreed to a fully public discussion.
John Kemper, who attends Rosemont Baptist and grew up in Southland, spoke first and had a page-long list of questions and concerns. He said the process so far has been less than transparent to residents. For example, he wanted to know who owns the property that HealthFirst will use as a part of a long-term lease with an option to buy. The answer is that Ted Mims, a longtime Lexington developer, is one of the owners. Since the lease deal was announced in May, Mims has been hired as project manger by HealthFirst at a salary of about $15,000 a month, according to his contract.
Kemper also had concerns about the switch from renovating the site to new construction. HealthFirst was to renovate a 29,000-square-foot building at 496 Southland Drive and a neighboring 11,000-square-foot building. The switch to new construction was announced Wednesday.
Rick Ekhoff of EOP Architects said the 10-foot ceilings in the decades-old building made renovation for a modern health clinic difficult and cost-prohibitive.
Mims said HealthFirst is requesting that the city install a stoplight at Southport Drive to ease access to the clinic. Eades was among the neighbors who worried a stoplight would slow already sluggish traffic in the area. If traffic moved much slower, he said, eliciting a laugh from the audience, drivers would be parked.
Several residents said they wanted the waste water and sewage coming from the clinic to be pre-treated to protect against disease, citing the already prevalent flooding problems in the area.
Mike Woolum of Strand Associates, which is doing the site plan, said there is no legal requirement for clinics or even hospitals to pre-treat waste water. He said he's unsure if a pre-treatment option exists for a clinic the size of the one proposed by HealthFirst. Most pre-treatment efforts were done on a larger, more industrial scale.
Ken Cooke, secretary of Friends of Wolf Run Inc. and a member of the HealthFirst neighborhood advisory committee, asked HealthFirst officials to create a report on the disease risk from the clinic for the next meeting.
North told the residents that the process of informing the neighborhood about the project had not started smoothly. "We would have preferred to have done it differently," he said. But, he said, he hopes that the advisory board of residents and business owners from the area will continue to help spread the word as the project moves forward. Construction may begin as early as January 2013 and could last about a year, he said.
Many of the plans discussed Thursday were preliminary, Burich said. Another public meeting will be held after those plans are more concrete, probably in about a month.