Beaufort News

County Council OKs hospital's roundabout plan at Bluffton center

Beaufort Memorial Hospital will move forward with plans for a Bluffton outpatient center after Beaufort County Council approved Monday a frontage road to the site.

The deal likely will mean a new roundabout on Buckwalter Parkway -- which had been a sticking point for some council members.

The hospital plans to build a 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot building on 20 acres off U.S. 278 to house current Bluffton staff. Eventually, the site could include as much as 120,000 square feet of space.

"We look at this as not just a one-building, but a multiple-building campus site for us," said Rick Toomey, Beaufort Memorial president and CEO.

To provide access to the site, hospital officials proposed a new road and intersection.

Engineering plans call for a frontage road that runs east from Lost Oaks Drive, passes the hospital property and meets a new roundabout on Buckwalter Parkway about 900 feet south of U.S. 278.

The county's Finance Committee approved the plan last week by a 4-2 vote, after council members debated if the proposed roundabout would be too close to the traffic signal at U.S. 278. County access standards for Buckwalter require 2,000 feet between traffic lights.

But hospital officials won over skeptics, and the plan passed the full council unanimously Monday.

"This is the end result of about three years' worth of strategic planning and site location and medical demographic studies," said Beaufort Memorial board member David Tedder.

A traffic study will be used to determine road design details. But unless it shows convincingly that stop signs will be sufficient at the Buckwalter intersection, "the default is a roundabout," Tedder said.

County engineering and infrastructure director Rob McFee said stop signs would likely accommodate the traffic from the outpatient center's first phase, but not for its full build-out.

"Their original use -- 60,000-plus square feet -- will be able to function with a stop sign, but their ultimate use will not," McFee said. "In the desire to do what's right, a roundabout appears to be the tool that needs to be implemented now for the future."

According to the agreement approved by council, Beaufort Memorial will pay for the road, then have that amount deducted from its future impact fees. A frontage road has been in the county's plans, but no funding is available.

If the full outpatient center is built, it would generate about $1.5 million in fees. Impact fees from other developments that tap into the hospital-built infrastructure could be used to repay the hospital, too, according to the agreement.

The road will cost about $1.5 million to construct. That figure does not include the roundabout, which has not yet been bid or estimated.

Toomey said the added expense of a roundabout will "pale" in comparison to the hospital's investment in the campus over 20 years.

In other council action:

  • County Council unanimously approved buying $2.2 million in mobile data equipment for emergency vehicles, which will replace a system bought in 1999.
  • "The current system we have is basically outdated," said public safety director William Winn, adding that replacement parts are no longer available.

    Emergency personnel use the equipment to receive information from dispatchers, look up warrants in crime databases and map where service calls are coming from.