The Daily Pulse:

Tennova vs. West Hills: Round 1

To the representatives of a Tennova hospital proposal for Middlebrook Pike near West Hills, the congregation at the small chapel of the Church of the Nazarene on Vanosdale probably seemed like more than just 100.
 
Officially a meeting of the executive committee of the 1300-household West Hills Community Association, it began civilly enough, with 45 minutes of regular business, including discussions of the new principal at the local elementary school and whether the new addition to Shannondale's rehabilitation facility would offer a beauty parlor.
 
Genial Dr. Reuben Pelot presided over the gathering, which included City Councilmen Duane Grieve, George Wallace, and Marshall Stair--as well as a couple of former council members, including Reuben's wife Barbara Pelot and Jean Teague.

The mere introduction of Tennova's crew elicited at least one boo. The intrepid team included longtime hospital executive Jerry Askew, attorney John King, Tennova representative Melody Robinson, and architect Marc Rowland of Nashville's Thomas, Miller and Associates. Rowland showed slides of the project, plotted on the area's largest undeveloped tract of land, a 110-acre mostly forested expanse along Middlebrook just west of Old Weisgarber. The hospital, the tallest part of which would be seven stories, would replace the Physicians Regional Medical Center, the generic-secular name for what used to be St. Mary's, about seven miles away in North Knoxville, where it's been located for 80-plus years. Unlike St. Mary's, which was long governed by the Catholic Church, Tennova is a for-profit institution.
 
Rowland did most of the talking, but his affable, easygoing style did not win over an audience that had turned out to denounce the project.
 
Though it was rumored that some attendees liked the project, they were mostly quiet during the lively discussion, which lasted more than an hour.
 
West Hills-area residents dislike the project for several reasons, including potential light and noise pollution, which Tennova reps said could be easily ameliorated, but most comments concerned increased automobile traffic, a subject that, from the sound of it, hasn't been fully studied.

"It's going to be a horrible experience," one declared, "a nightmare." Others used the words "eyesore," and "monstrosity."
 
The audience was overwhelmingly white, and mostly graying, but diverse in dress and in background; a claim about whether an ambulance could negotiate one road was rebutted by an ambulance owner; a claim about medical helicopter patterns was rebutted by a former helicopter pilot.
 
There was also concern about the prevailing tendency among hospitals to expand beyond their original boundaries, sometimes far beyond. Tennova made assurances that they had no intention of occupying the forested southern half of the site, alongside the Ridge Rock Lane neighborhood, and that any future expansion would be vertical. One attorney brought up Fort Sanders Medical Center's progressive destruction of its own historic neighborhood, even after recent pledges not to expand beyond a given boundary. (It's not a Tennova project, but it's a hospital in a residential neighborhood.)
 
And there were claims that Tennova's Turkey Creek project was underused, even "empty"; Tennova reps claimed it was at 80 percent capacity, typical for a hospital as for a hotel.
 
A few brought up the fact that North Knoxville wanted to keep its hospital, while a vocal majority of the West Hills residents who turned out for this meeting don't want a hospital at all. Tennova representatives claimed they could not improve the St. Mary's site without tearing much of it down and putting it out of commission for an extended period of time. Askew reported physicians had been demanding a West Knoxville hospital, conveying the demand of west-side patients who prefer not to drive all the way into town. He also cited demographic surveys concerning westward accumulations of population and moreover, of westward accumulations of aging population. The West Hills turnout seemed an unspoken confirmation of that claim. A solid majority of attendees and speakers appeared to be well north of 50.
 
Hands were still in the air at almost 9 p.m. when Dr. Pelot adjourned the meeting.

The issue goes before MPC on Thursday the 11th, to request 0-1 zoning for the project, and it may be at least as dramatic.

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