Change to state law could help Knoxville hospital move forward

Change to state law could help new Knoxville hospital move forward

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By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A state law is being changed to make way for a possible new hospital in West Knoxville.

Tennova announced in January a purchase option on a 110 acre piece of property along Middlebrook Pike.

Hospital officials recently discovered that section of road is designated as a scenic highway, which means there are strict guidelines for new construction.

A Tennova spokesperson said they learned of the scenic highway designation within the last month.

With the help of state senators Stacey Campfield and Becky Duncan Massey, a bill was passed last week that would exempt that section of road and make it possible for the construction project to move forward.

The potential hospital site sits between Weisgarber and Hardin Valley, a section of road designated as a scenic highway.

"There's controls of the heights of buildings," explained Shawn Bible, the coordinator for the Tennessee Beautification Office. "New buildings built along scenic highways have to be 35 feet or less in height."

Bible says companies can request an exemption to build along these roadways.

"That section of road where the hospital is going could be exempted out by the legislature, by the scenic highway program and that's happened in the past," she explained.

After passing in the House and Senate, the bill is awaiting the governor's signature. It would alter the scenic highway, moving the western boundary from Weisgarber to Whitehall Road, a difference of about one mile.

The state beautification office says it's not uncommon for amendments to be made to the scenic highways. While their job is to preserve and maintain scenic vistas, it at times calls for leniency.

"I think for programs like this, as many positives that they have, they ought to have flexibility and I think that's where the flexibility to come in," Bible said.

Sen. Duncan Massey said she supports the exemption because a new hospital would bring jobs and economic growth to the area.

The spokesperson for Tennova said this is just one of the several steps in the due diligence process. They have several other considerations including zoning and a geological study before they move forward.

She said they have not made a decision to build the hospital, but the hospital paid an undisclosed amount for the purchasing option.

Tennova said in January the property is being looked at as a possible replacement for the Physicians Regional Medical Center in North Knoxville, the former Saint Mary's, which is no longer adequate for their needs

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