Isle of Wight grants height exceptions for hospital, sign

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors on April 20 approved height exceptions for Riverside Health Systems’ planned 50-bed Smithfield-area hospital and its roadside sign.

Both exceptions passed unanimously. Construction of the hospital is set to begin in July, and it is expected to open by 2025.

Obtaining Isle of Wight’s approval for the hospital and its sign to exceed height restrictions in the county’s zoning ordinance was among Riverside’s few remaining hurdles ahead of the scheduled July 26 groundbreaking.

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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 hospital would be 67 feet tall.

Riverside’s submitted narrative states design requirements for modern hospitals now 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 zoning ordinance sets a maximum area of 50 square feet and a maximum height of 8 feet for roadside signs, though Riverside’s would be 97.5 square feet and just under 11 feet tall. Riverside’s submitted narrative argued the sign wouldn’t be legible to motorists needing to safely navigate across the four-lane highway to access the site in an emergency if the design were constrained to the county’s requirements.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty noted approving the exception that would allow the hospital to exceed three stories “in no way sets a precedent” for other developers looking to build tall.

“This is all for the sake of it’s a hospital,” McCarty said, calling the proposed facility a “wonderful addition” to the county.

Other supervisors were equally enthusiastic about the hospital.

“I’m so excited to have a hospital that near to my home,” said Supervisor Dick Grice.

After initially recommending denial, the Virginia Department of Health reversed course and approved Riverside’s requested “certificate of public need” on March 18, 2022. Virginia has used the certificate of public need process since 1973. The process requires health systems seeking to build a new hospital demonstrate with data that there is a need for the new facility.

Isle of Wight has seen rapid growth in recent years fueled by new housing developments, some planned decades ago, that are now building out. 

According to 2022 census estimates, Isle of Wight is the seventh fastest-growing county and the ninth fastest-growing locality, including cities, in the state.