The Scotts Hill medical facility on U.S. 17, straddling New Hanover and Pender, is nearing its groundbreaking. New Hanover County is handling the permitting and inspection process on behalf of both counties. (Port City Daily/Courtesy LS3P)

PENDER COUNTY — Pender commissioners approved an agreement Monday to hand over zoning and inspection rights to New Hanover for a new medical facility being built on the shared border between the counties. 

The proposed Scotts Hill medical center — a 66-bed hospital, medical and dental office, business space and a heliport — went through the New Hanover County technical review process two months ago and straddles the county line. The more than $200-million project must undergo another review by the New Hanover technical review committee, after submitting revised plans from recommendations made at the first meeting. 

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New Hanover planning director Rebekah Roth said New Hanover staff reached out to Pender County when Novant began the TRC process to coordinate how to handle the project moving forward.

Since the property straddles the line of the two counties, both staff agreed to streamline the remainder of the process for the applicant. Most of the property is in New Hanover, so Roth said it made sense to allow its planning staff to handle the remaining zoning, permits, inspections and code enforcement. 

The agreement also authorizes New Hanover to approve landscaping, parking, erosion control and stormwater after review.

New Hanover must take Pender’s development ordinance into account before approving documents. In return, New Hanover will receive all associated fees from Novant.

“Our technical review staff would need to take an additional look at the Pender County side of the parcel, but as development is minimal on that portion of the tract, most of New Hanover County’s role would be during the engineering department’s construction plan review process,” Roth told Port City Daily.

When it comes to tax revenue, Roth explained the handover will not disproportionately impact  either county.

“What is in Pender is taxed by Pender and subject to Pender rules,” she said.

Pender County interim planning director Justin Brantley also confirmed anything Novant would want to construct or alter that is not allowed “by-right” in the district, would still require a special use permit from Pender.

The proposed facility is on 44.76 acres owned by Novant Health; the planned structures will be an extension to the emergency room and urgent care already at 151 Scotts Hill Medical Park Drive along U.S. 17. 

Roth said there have been similar arrangements with residential developments, specifically in the Scotts Hill area, such as Scotts Hill Village, that required coordination between the two staffs.

“But this was prior to current staff’s tenure so I don’t have the details since this type of interlocal agreement hasn’t always been necessary,” Roth said.

The request to convert the property’s zoning to office and institutional from a mix of conditional office and constitutional and neighborhood business passed the New Hanover planning board unanimously and board of commissioners a year-and-a-half ago. The plan does not have to go back to the planning board or commissioners for by-right site plan approval, now that the district is already zoned.

The facility, intended to break ground in 2023, includes a 50-foot tall, 20,000-square-foot hospital, an additional building with 60,000 square feet of medical and dental space and 1,039 parking spots.

In October 2020, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, prior to its merger with Novant, applied to build the structure. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services denied its request in February 2021, claiming the healthcare provider failed to demonstrate a need for 66 additional beds in the area.

The decision was overturned in April 2021, two months after Novant agreed to purchase NHRMC, and the healthcare provider received its necessary certificate of need.

According to previous PCD reporting, bed capacity at Novant’s 17th Street campus is limited by “high-occupancy rates,” citing the reason for more space.

The proposed expansion is expected to bring 510 more vehicles along U.S. 17 in the morning and 400 additional in the evening. The 9100 block of Market Street, where the complex is located, is already over capacity; the roadway can handle 41,368 but averages 44,500 vehicles daily.

The growth along the U.S. 17 corridor and in the northern portion of New Hanover is why Novant is shifting resources to that location. When NHRMC closed its midtown Orthopedic Hospital, the 75 beds were divvied up 45 to the main hospital campus and 30 to the Scotts Hill facility. 

The medical services are intended to reach  rural populations, geared toward the elderly, who may find the main campus “intimidating,” according to NHRMC’s 2020 application to state regulators.

Access to healthcare was the top need for residents, based on a Pender County community health needs assessment in 2018. During the same year, UNC-Chapel Hill reported there were 2.8 physicians for every 10,000 Pender County residents — well below the U.S. average, which is 28.5 doctors per 10,000 people, according to the CDC.

A Novant spokesperson said the medical office building should be open by 2024 and the medical center is scheduled to open in 2025. The design has been finalized and final construction documents are in progress.

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