Opponents of IU Health's plan to establish a medical campus in Lafayette Township zeroed in Thursday on a proposal to make its hospital 150 feet tall.
But that objection was quickly shot down during an Allen County Plan Commission public hearing.
Opponents said approval of the applicant's request to waive a development standard limiting buildings to 40 feet could mean a 15-story building on part of the 137.3-acre site at Lower Huntington and Ernst roads near Interstate 69.
Andrew Boxberger, attorney for applicant Ernst Associates LLC, said the 150-foot request was an upper limit. The applicant did not want the hospital to be classified as a high-rise, and the actual building would not be that tall, he said.
Opponents raised other objections to the plan, which also includes a cancer center at up to 75 feet and buildings up to 50 feet on six sites among 15 tracts.
The applicant has asked that the site be uniformly rezoned shopping center. The location now has that and several other classifications – agricultural, single-family and multiple-family residential and professional offices and personal services.
Andrea Milliman, who lives in the nearby Prairie Meadows development, said 149 signatures had been gathered in four days on a petition opposing the development.
Residents believe the hospital is “not needed at this location” and would “look out of place” in the semirural area, she said. Milliman added the campus would be served by local roads already stressed by traffic.
Two-lane Homestead Road would be difficult to widen because of drainage problems, and Lower Huntington Road already is seeing increased traffic from Amazon-related and other vehicles, Milliman said.
“Why locate a hospital in an area that is only three miles away from another hospital?” she asked, referring to Lutheran Hospital's West Jefferson Boulevard campus.
Neighboring resident Josh Clements said he wanted the part of the site now zoned professional offices and personal services to stay that way.
That would “prevent something like a Best Western” going up next door to his home – allowable under the broader shopping center zoning.
“I don't think it upsets their plan,” he said. “I ask for protection for myself and my neighbors.”
Other residents expressed concern about wildlife habitat and farmers' access to nearby fields.
“We'd like to remain semirural and have the quiet and peace we've had,” neighbor Sharon Hultquist said.
Boxberger said uniform zoning will make development simpler.
Boxberger alluded to one reason – saying a medical office building now going up on part of the site is being built without having to seek plan commission approval because it meets all the zoning ordinance's requirements.
Such projects can be approved administratively.
Boxberger said the medical campus was being done using environmentally conscious standards, but he could not provide architectural details of the hospital because it has not yet been designed yet.
Residents and some commission members wondered aloud what would happen under shopping center zoning should the hospital campus not be constructed.
The plan commission's attorney, Bob Eherenman, reminded plan commissioners that turning down a proposal based on an opinion about need is outside the body's legal authority.
Boxberger said the plan is an overall improvement for the area.
“This site has been zoned this way for 15-plus years and was intended to be used commercially,” he said. “We view it as downzoning with lower density.
“We're just asking for some uniformity across the site.”
The plan commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal at a business meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday in Room 35 of Citizens Square.