Denial of permit for project called ‘erroneous’
STAR JOURNAL REPORT
After being denied a conditional use permit by Oneida County’s Planning and Development Committee to build a hospital addition to its current clinic in Minocqua, the Marshfield Clinic has filed paperwork to appeal the committee’s decision to the county’s Board of Adjustment.
The committee, which voted 3-2 June 14 to deny the Marshfield Clinic a permit for a 72,000-square-foot addition, based its decision on the application not meeting a standard for approval that states, “The establishment, maintenance or operation of the conditional use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare.”
Committee members Scott Holewinski, Jack Sorensen and Mike Timmons voted to deny the permit, while Dave Hintz and Billy Fried favored the permit’s issuance.
In the appeal received July 20 by the county planning and zoning department, Marshfield Clinic assistant general counsel Dan Kirschnik asked the Board of Adjustment to reverse the Planning and Development Committee’s decision and grant the permit, arguing the committee’s denial “was erroneous, that the planning committee did not keep within its jurisdiction, that the planning committee applied an incorrect theory of law, and that the planning committee acted arbitrarily and unreasonably in denying Marshfield’s CUP application.”
The Marshfield Clinic applied in January for a conditional use permit to build a hospital in Minocqua that would have a surgery center, 12 in-patient beds, emergency room, imaging and lab. The proposed single-story addition, which has an estimated price tag from $30-35 million, would be built to the southwest of the existing clinic and designed for potential future expansion, vertically and horizontally, according to the permit application.
If approved, the project would place another hospital in the Minocqua-Woodruff area in close proximity to the existing Howard Young Medical Center that is part of Ministry Health Care and owned by Ascension. Representatives of HYMC have objected to the Marshfield Clinic’s proposal. HYMC also has its own multi-million-dollar renovation and construction project in the works.
Kirschnik said the committee’s decision to deny the permit “was based solely on concerns about competition with the existing Howard Young Medical Center,” which under case law “is an improper basis upon which to deny a CUP application.”
“In the exercise of its zoning authority, the planning committee does not have the power to regulate competition or establish health care policy,” he said. “The proper function of the planning committee in considering a CUP application is to evaluate the suitability of a proposed use of land. Here, the planning committee found no concerns with the proposed land use. Therefore, the CUP should have been granted.”
Marshfield Clinic’s hospital addition proposal previously received the backing of both the Minocqua Plan Commission and the Town Board after both bodies heard from supporters and opponents before the permit application was forwarded to the county’s Planning and Development Committee, which held its own public hearing April 27 and also conducted an on-site inspection of the property May 10.
County planning and zoning director Karl Jennrich noted the appeal has yet to be scheduled before the Board of Adjustment, which doesn’t have the matter on its agenda for its next meeting Aug. 17.
Being that the county corporation counsel’s office provided the Planning and Development Committee legal advice leading up to the denial vote, Jennrich said it is now his department’s and the corporation counsel office’s job to defend that position, thereby having a conflict of interest to at the same time represent the Board of Adjustment hearing an appeal.
The county’s Administration Committee last month authorized the hiring of outside legal counsel for the Board of Adjustment. County finance director Darcy Smith reported at Monday’s Administration Committee meeting that $25,000 has been designated in the county’s contingency fund to cover those legal expenses.
In the event the permit isn’t granted on appeal, Marshfield Clinic regional medical director Bill Melms, who noted the current clinic site in Minocqua is the first choice to build a hospital, has stated the Marshfield Clinic is “considering alternatives should Minocqua not pan out.”
“Arbor Vitae is one location under consideration – not a bluff,” he said. “It would be great to experience a more welcoming approval process than we have encountered in Oneida County, but Vilas County has its own process which we would need to follow.”
Melms said the size and scope of any facility the Marshfield Clinic builds “will depend on the location we choose and will be scaled to the service area.”