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Hospital must modify office plans

Memorial Hospital’s planned construction of a new doctors’ office building may benefit patients but could also add more traffic to Shotwell Street, based on comments by Bainbridge’s City Council and Planning Commission.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote on Tuesday, with Councilman Edward Reynolds abstaining, the City Council denied a variance request from the Hospital Authority of the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County seeking to reduce the front setback for their property located at 1605 E. Shotwell St. from 30 feet to 20 feet. The authority plans to construct suites for five doctors.

Both Mayor Mark Harrell and Councilman Reynolds excused themselves from the council chambers during consideration of the appeal. Both said they owned properties adjacent to the Hospital Authority’s property.

The council ultimately agreed with the Planning Commission, which had recommended denial of the request due to safety concerns associated with the building—as originally proposed—being closer to Shotwell Street than adjacent businesses.

The council’s denial of the appeal means the Hospital Authority and its architect, Jinright, Lynn and Ryan of Thomasville, Ga., will change the layout of the office building. The building will be moved farther back to meet the front setback requirements, but in the process an exit onto East Broughton Street will be eliminated, leaving only an entry/exit on Shotwell Street.

Traffic concerns

Architect Leon Lynn spoke on the hospital’s behalf and explained the reason for the variance request.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is requiring the Hospital Authority to shift the existing drive at 1605 E. Shotwell St., which used to lead to a building that will be demolished. The DOT wants the offices’ outlet to align with Gordon Avenue, a fairly busy street leading into the neighborhood behind the hospital.

Local attorney Wayne Lambert Jr., who said he was speaking as a private citizen, urged the council to deny the variance. Allowing the building to move closer to Shotwell Street could have the potential to cause more vehicle accidents and traffic jams, Lambert said. Lambert read portions of the city’s zoning ordinance and said he didn’t believe the request met the reasons for a variance.

Councilman Greg Waddell, a local developer, said he considered the DOT’s approval of the re-designed outlet onto Shotwell Street “a safety pass” and asked City Manager Chris Hobby “What could be done to get this done?”

Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer said she believed granting the variance would set a precedent for other businesses located along highways to ask why they could not be located closer to roadways.

Councilman Luther Conyers said Shotwell is Bainbridge’s busiest street and said he had questions about how granting the variance would affect safety.

The Georgia DOT has no plans to install a traffic light at the intersection of Shotwell Street with Gordon Avenue and the driveway in front of the slated new office building, Hobby told The Post-Searchlight.