Riverside’s Smithfield hospital moves closer to summer groundbreaking

Published 3:03 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Riverside Health Systems’ planned 50-bed Smithfield-area hospital is on track to begin construction this summer.

According to Valerie Butler, who serves on the hospital’s regional medical board, a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for July 26 at 11 a.m.

In the meantime, Riverside and its developers are working to clear the project’s few remaining hurdles, which include securing Isle of Wight County’s approval for the hospital and its roadside sign to exceed height restrictions in the county’s zoning ordinance.

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Isle of Wight supervisors rezoned the nearly 30-acre parcel off Benns Church Boulevard as general commercial in 2008 as part of the master plan for the in-progress Benns Grant development. General commercial allows for a maximum height of 50 feet, though the proposed design would be 67 feet tall.

According to Riverside’s submitted narrative, the design requirements for modern hospitals require significantly more space above ceilings to accommodate electrical, plumbing, ventilation, medical gas and telecommunications systems. The design also calls for an enclosed mechanical “penthouse” in lieu of rooftop-mounted air handlers to shield the equipment from view.

The proposed roadside sign would be 97.5 square feet and just under 11 feet tall.

The zoning ordinance sets a maximum area of 50 square feet and a maximum height of 8 feet. 

“For a hospital, it is vital especially during emergencies that motorists can easily see the hospital signage, to be able to safely navigate to the appropriate lane to get to the site,” Riverside’s submitted narrative states, contending the sign would “not be legible” from the highway were it designed to meet the county’s requirements.

Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission voted unanimously on March 28 to recommend supervisors approve both requests. The supervisors are scheduled to consider the matter on April 20.

After initially recommending denial, the Virginia Department of Health reversed course and approved Riverside’s requested “certificate of public need” on March 18, 2022. Since 1973, Virginia has used the certificate of public need process, which requires health systems seeking to build a new hospital to demonstrate with data that there is a need for the new facility that isn’t currently being met.

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Colin Greene, in his March 18 ruling, asserted that “maintaining the status quo,” as VDH staff had recommended in 2021, “is not a preferable alternative,” citing Isle of Wight’s rapid growth. According to the 2020 Census, the number of new homes built in Isle of Wight over the past decade has far outpaced the state rate, a 12.4% increase since 2010 compared to 7.6% statewide.

Riverside’s Isle of Wight hospital is set to open by 2025.