Despite concerns raised by residents of a nearby condominium development, a county advisory board this week approved zoning changes and deviations that would allow Health First to build a new hospital and ‘wellness village’ on Merritt Island.

Monday’s unanimous approval from the Brevard County Planning and Zoning Board follows a similar unanimous vote on April 28 from the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency. Health First’s proposal now goes to the Brevard County Commission for a potential final vote on May 26.

Health First wants to build a seven-story, 120-bed hospital with an attached medical office building and a ‘wellness village’ on a 15.05-acre site, across State Highway 520 from the center Merritt Square mall. The $508 million complex would replace the current six-story, 150-bed Cape Canaveral Hospital near State Route 520 in Cocoa Beach, which would close when the new hospital opens.

All rooms in the new hospital would be private, unlike the current Cape Canaveral Hospital, where the majority of rooms are semi-private – designed for two patients.

Among the components of the health village, there will be a fitness center, a spa, an education center for health and wellness education, a concierge tower, a daycare center, a restaurant, a cafe , a market/juice bar and retail space.

Proponents of the project see it as creating a “downtown” feel for this section of Merritt Island, in conjunction with the mall and nearby Brevard Veterans Memorial Center.

But 95 residents of the Harbor Del Rio condominium community have signed a petition that has been submitted to the Planning and Zoning Board, citing concerns about increased traffic and noise generated by the project.

They weren’t necessarily opposed to the hospital plan, but said in the petition that “we feel we need to be represented in the planning to ensure these concerns are adequately addressed.”

Jonathan Flyte, Health First's system vice president for facilities construction and real estate, explains details of his company's Merritt Island hospital/health village project to members of the city's planning and zoning board Brevard County.

Additionally, three residents spoke during the public comment period at Monday’s hearing to highlight their concerns, which also included drainage and the project’s impact on a nearby bird colony.

Health First officials said any issues would be resolved and they plan to meet with residents of the condo community soon to further discuss their concerns.

This artist rendering shows what the new Health First hospital would look like near State Road 520 on Merritt Island.  The 120-bed establishment could open as early as 2025.

Traffic, noise, lighting, drainage, flood mitigation procedures and other issues will be resolved through a thorough administrative review process with Brevard County staff prior to the start of the construction, according to Kim Rezanka, a land use lawyer who represented Health First before the Planning and Zoning Board.

“We’re going to do what the county demands,” Rezanka said.

Planning Council members were generally impressed with the Health First project and its presentation.

“This is a game-changer for Merritt Island,” planning board member Liz Alward said just before making the motion to approve Health First’s applications. “For me, it’s a win-win situation for Merritt Island.”

Planning Council member Bruce Moia told Health First representatives: “I think you’ve done a great job. I don’t see any negative issues with that.”

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What’s included:New details about Merritt Island hospital planned by Health First, the ‘wellness village’

Other board members praised Health First for considering hurricane hazards when designing the project. For example, the hospital will be built 13 feet above the ground to protect against storm surges. And the medical office building and the wellness village will be built above a two-level car park for the same reason.

This site map shows the various components of Health First's Merritt Island Project.

The hospital is designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane and would remain open during a storm. This contrasts with the current Cape Canaveral Hospital, which has had to be evacuated during several storms in the past, with patients transferred to hospitals on the mainland.

But, in an email to the Planning Board, Harbor Del Rio resident Sherry Randolph expressed a number of concerns.

Randolph said she was concerned the hospital project would affect residents, noting, “We reside in a quiet neighborhood and enjoy the nature and wildlife in the surrounding area. The main areas of concern for this development are the noise, traffic, environment and potential expansion.”

Jonathan Flyte, Health First’s system vice president for facilities construction and real estate, said the company also wanted a quiet and “restful” environment for patients and visitors to the hospital and village. of well-being.

He said the ambulance sirens will be turned off when the ambulance is within 300 meters of the hospital. the resort’s power plant will operate silently; and there will be a minimum of Health First medical helicopter take-offs and landings – likely less than one per day on average.

Rezanka said the approvals from the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency and the Brevard County Planning and Zoning Board came after two years of work designing the project.

The proposal will then be considered and voted on by the county commission – which should be the last step before a government council, unless Health First significantly changes its plan.

As it did with the two advisory councils that approved the project, Health First will ask county commissioners to approve the rezoning of the site into what is known as a “planned unit development”. The property now has a combination of General Retail Commercial and Retail/Warehouse/Wholesale Commercial zoning. The Planned Unit Development designation allows for greater flexibility in the development of a large project such as this.

Health First will also seek 19 county code waivers for the project, including those related to building height, setbacks, distance between structures and requirements for its helipad above the hospital building.

The project is expected to generate approximately 800 construction jobs during construction of the facilities. Construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023 and be completed in the fourth quarter of 2025.

Matthew Gerrell, Health First’s general manager for retail services, said the new hospital and wellness village will have more than 1,000 staff, compared to around 600 at the existing Cape Canaveral Hospital and the medical office building adjacent to Cocoa Beach. The number of employees of more than 1,000 would include staff at the fitness centre, catering establishments and retailers, which Health First says will largely be run by entities other than Health First.

Planning Council member Henry Minneboo said in general Merritt Island residents are “extremely excited” about the project, adding that Health First has done a “wonderful job” of putting the concept together.

Ben Glover, another member of the Planning Board, said: “If Health First is involved it will be wonderful. I’m definitely in favor of that.”

Dave Berman is a business writer at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at [email protected] Twitter: @bydaveberman.

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What the Health First project includes

The following are the components of the planned Health First Hospital and Wellness Village on Merritt Island:

  • A seven-story, 320,000 square foot hospital. The hospital platform will be raised to provide protection from potential storm surges.
  • A 21,500 square foot central utility plant containing heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, as well as standby generators.
  • 120,000 square feet of medical offices.
  • A 2,800 square foot spa.
  • A daycare of 7,500 square feet.
  • A 5700 square foot restaurant.
  • A 19,100 square foot education center for health and wellness education.
  • A 2,900 square foot cafe.
  • A 2,000 square foot market/juice bar.
  • 5,800 square feet of mixed-use commercial space.
  • A 700 square foot concierge tower.
  • A 20,000 square foot fitness center.
  • Two floors of closed parking, plus surface parking, totaling 947 spaces.
  • A helipad to manage helicopter landings and take-offs for the transport of patients with serious illnesses to the hospital’s emergency department or from there to another hospital.