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Dignity Health seeks city approval for French hospital expansion 

Dignity Health is taking its plans to expand French Hospital Medical Center back to the city of San Luis Obispo following a pause during COVID-19.

On March 21, SLO's Architectural Review Committee (ARC) discussed the project, which proposes to add a new four-story medical tower, parking garage, and helipad to French's current complex on Johnson Avenue.

The ARC, which last reviewed the project plans in 2019, unanimously recommended final approval to the city Planning Commission at its recent meeting.

"I'm in favor of this development," ARC member Allen Root said. "I know that this is a permitted use and it's a very necessary and valuable asset for this community. My concerns really revolve around trying to lessen the impacts on the neighborhood as much as possible."

Neighborhood concerns are at the center of any opposition to the hospital's expansion.

click to enlarge BIG EXPANSION French Hospital Medical Center is eyeing a major expansion, which will bring a new medical tower, parking garage, and helipad to its San Luis Obispo complex. - RENDERING COURTESY OF SLO CITY
  • Rendering Courtesy Of SLO City
  • BIG EXPANSION French Hospital Medical Center is eyeing a major expansion, which will bring a new medical tower, parking garage, and helipad to its San Luis Obispo complex.

Carol Nelson-Selby, a resident on Leff Street near the hospital, wrote in a public comment that she was strongly opposed to a helipad for noise and safety reasons.

"We cannot imagine why the city would allow this hazard so very close to established homes," Nelson-Selby wrote. "Without a doubt it will have a negative impact on the livability and value of our real estate, not just because of the noise, but because of the hazard of an accident in a residential neighborhood."

Liz Lucas, a hospital neighbor on Breck Street, said that she was not opposed to the expansion, but asked Dignity and the city to take steps to reduce the impacts of construction. French recently wrapped up work on a new emergency room, and Lucas said for months she could hear construction noise in her house "all day long."

"Just generally, the construction noise is a huge prevention to the enjoyment of our home," Lucas wrote in her comment.

At the ARC meeting, Root asked hospital planners if there was any flexibility to relocate the helipad farther away from neighboring residences. Architect Ariana Melendez explained that the helipad, which will take in about four emergency choppers per month, has to comply with strict FAA and Caltrans regulations.

"[Helicopters] have an approach angle and it has to be clear and has to avoid schools and churches and other elements, as well as the mountains to the north," Melendez explained. "There was a pretty narrow range of where this element could go. And we worked pretty extensively with a helicopter engineer on that."

Overall, ARC members expressed appreciation for the various tweaks made to the project design in response to committee feedback in 2019. Next up for the expansion is the Planning Commission.

Root emphasized that while he supports French hospital and its plans, he hopes that neighbors' concerns are honored and respected throughout the process.

"I've worn a gown inside the French Medical Center a lot of times, and they do a wonderful job," Root said. "And by the same token, there's going to be impacts, but if they can be mitigated to the highest point, I think that will go a long way." Δ

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