Proponents of a regional hospital to be based out of the Comox Valley are considering option No. 2 near North Island College because the Department of National Defence has nixed the first choice of sites at Ryan Road across from Crown Isle.
In January, the Vancouver Island Health Authority announced its preferred location for the new hospital. However, the Ryan Road site across from Crown Isle falls within an area about four kilometres in radius around CFB Comox and the airport that restricts the height of structures to fewer
than nine metres, deeming the location unsuitable for a hospital, VIHA announced this week.
DND is responsible for zoning around the Comox Valley Airport because it is classified as a military aerodrome, according to Transport Canada.
"The problem in many ways has effectively gone away," 19 Wing Cmdr. Col. Jim Benninger said. "There's certain zones around an airfield to ensure safe and effective ops of military and civilian aircraft. Like any fence, you put it somewhere, and it happened that the first site was within our outer limit and the second site is not."
Benninger agrees it is peculiar the discrepancy was not figured out before VIHA chose the first site.
Since March, the regional health authority had been trying to secure a variance on the height restriction but was informed last week that DND denied the request.
"It's also funny that there are some structures that were built that were issued contrary to the title deed on the land and building permits issued by the municipality," Benninger said, noting nearby buildings that exceed the nine-metre limit.
"Ultimately it's all about safety," he said.
A call to Silverado Land Corp. at Crown Isle were not returned.
Courtenay Mayor Greg Phelps notes the possible "trickledown" effects in areas like Crown Isle and the Raven Project, where the city had pre-zoned for eight-storey developments.
"We would have to look at what impacts that would have on all of these," Phelps said.
Despite the setback, VIHA expects preliminary work, including designs, will be transferrable to a new location at the south side of Lerwick Road near Ryan Road, about one kilometre from the first site.
"There are no height restrictions at the property adjacent to NIC," VIHA communications officer Val Wilson said.
The project is expected to continue on schedule.
"I don't see this as any sort of setback," said Phelps, who notes VIHA hired a consultant team to help with site selection. "It's something that could happen in any sort of real estate deal."
College president/CEO Dr. Jan Lindsay and VIHA president/CEO Howard Waldner met Tuesday to discuss the potential use of land.
The budget for the North Island Hospitals business case is $3 million.
VIHA had considered 22 possible hospital locations in Cumberland, Courtenay and Comox before shortlisting to six sites. VIHA then shortlisted three sites on Ryan Road in the Crown Isle/NIC area.
"They were all looked at based on a set of criteria," Wilson said.
The criteria included proximity to the population, including North Island residents; access to transportation and transit routes; financial considerations and the size of the site.
The first location included 15 acres with an option on a further five acres to allow for growth of services at the hospital. The proximity to the college would enable students to receive hands-on training in a hospital environment.
A selection committee also likes the Ryan Road site for its accessibility from Campbell River and the North Island through either the Old Island Highway or the Inland Island Highway via the Dove Creek, Piercy Road or Comox Valley Parkway exits.
The new regional facility is part of a two-hospital project that includes a new hospital in Campbell River. The latter will provide emergency service in and around Campbell River. Patients requiring a transfer will be transported to the Valley, Victoria or Vancouver. The Valley facility is expected to have 150—160 beds with some regional services. The Campbell River hospital will have 90—95 beds.
The BC Government Project Board overseeing the North Island Hospitals Project approved a team of 14 consultants to develop a business plan for both hospitals.
To date, about $1.1 million has been spent on their work.
"The work that has been done to date is easily portable to a new site," Wilson said.
To ensure the NIC site meets their needs, VIHA will undertake additional work such as surveying, geotechnical and civil engineering analysis, and traffic analysis, expected to cost less than $50,000.