A proposed $1 billion hospital and medical campus in Westampton Township will bring needed health services to the region and stimulate economic development, Virtua Health representatives told the township Land Development and Zoning Board on Wednesday night.
Virtua Health, a nonprofit that operates three South Jersey hospitals, unveiled a 20-year plan to build a nine-story acute-care hospital, a surgical center, a rehabilitation center, hospice and long-term care facilities, and other buildings on a 110-acre farm in the mostly rural Burlington County township.
Virtua purchased the former Hogan Farm, at Burlington-Mount Holly Road (Route 541) and Woodlane Road (Route 630), for $10 million in 2014. Virtua officials have said the new hospital would replace Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, about three miles away. No decision has been made on the future use of that four-floor hospital.
The board voted, 8-0, to approve the proposal.
About 25 residents attended the meeting. John Anderson, who lives nearby, said earlier that the proposal would "destroy the bucolic character of the township," and could affect the environment and the Rancocas Creek.
Anderson said he planned to seek a court order to stop the project.
Some in the audience groaned when Virtua officials described the potential traffic patterns and when a board member expressed concerns that Woodlane Road could become a shortcut for traffic and create congestion.
Five residents addressed the board after the presentation, asking mostly about traffic and environmental studies that would be conducted before the project breaks ground in a few years. Virtua officials said they had done some studies already and would do more during the approval process. They said they would go before the county planning board, since the affected roads are owned by the county.
James Rivard, a vice president at Marlton-based Virtua, gave an overview of the plan. He said that when a Virtua medical campus was built on Route 73 in Voorhees Township in 2011, new businesses and doctors' offices began to spring up in the area.
Rivard said a proposed helipad at the Westampton campus would only be used to transport patients from the hospital to trauma centers that would offer more specialized services when needed. He said it would not be used to airlift emergency patients to the hospital. "There will be no refueling, no repairing, and no storage of a helicopter" at the helipad, he said.
Bob Stoeckle, a project manager, presented renderings of the proposed campus, which would be built in phases.
He said that two boulevards would traverse the campus, adjacent to the county Human Services building, the county's Special Services School, and a neighborhood.
Stoeckle said that the hospital would be built on a 29-acre portion of the site and that nine other buildings would be located around the campus and along a wetlands.
Township Solicitor Louis Cappelli Jr. told the board that this was just a "general development plan" and that other approvals would be required along the way.
William Hyland Jr., a lawyer for Virtua, said the board's approval "would assure the applicant to make a substantial investment in the plans."
The 108-page plan Virtua recently submitted to the board outlines a 20-year project that calls for the construction of up to two million square feet of space and nearly 3,000 parking spaces. An anticipated 3,400 employees would work on the campus, not far from I-295 and the Burlington County Library and Amphitheater.
"The construction of a world-class medical campus" is needed because the existing hospital, built in 1926, is outdated, and its site cannot accommodate expansion, the plans say.
Westampton Mayor Carolyn Chang said officials would examine the plans closely in coming weeks to make sure they are "appropriate" and do not create "any major traffic issues" in that part of the township.
The board recently amended its master plan to allow a hospital and a town center with mixed business and residential use to be constructed in that location.
The proposed medical complex is "great for economic development in Westampton," said Chang, who sits on the land development board. "I believe it will bring additional business to Westampton that will help to stabilize our property taxes."
Virtua anticipates that the campus will generate about $2.3 million in property-tax revenues each year. Once approvals are obtained, Virtua expects to begin construction in 2019 and have the hospital built as early as 2022. The project would be built in two phases.
Virtua says it will consult with Mount Holly Township officials and private enterprises to find a new use for the old hospital and its 17-acre property.
While the current hospital has semiprivate rooms, private rooms are becoming the standard, the plans state. The Mount Holly hospital has had seven additions, the most recent in 2013.