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Votes clear way for Hospice House to proceed

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By John Barnhart

Votes by Bedford County’s supervisors and planning commission, at a joint meeting Thursday night, cleared the way for Bedford Hospice House Inc., a non-profit organization, to start building.

    Early in the process of raising money for this facility, the organization was offered a site on land owned by Bedford Memorial Hospital. Concerns later arose after an underground storage tank was discovered on the site. The land was originally part of a farm more than 50 years ago and the tank’s use and potential contents are unknown. Concern also arose about the possibility of hitting rock. All of these could raise the cost of construction.   

    Hospice House then sought to build on land leased from the county on Falling Creek Road, next to the Group Home. The land has already been surveyed, so the organization knows it won’t run into surprises. A paved access and curbing is already in place, lowering construction costs.

    The problem was that the area is zoned Agricultural Preserve (AP) and the county’s zoning ordinance did not permit nursing homes in an AP zone. A hospice house is, technically, a nursing home. The two boards met to consider a change to the ordinance that permits nursing home in this zone, with a special use permit.

    The county nursing home also happens to be in an AP zone, but Mary Zirkle, the county’s chief of planning, noted that the nursing home predated the zoning ordinance. The current zoning ordinance dates to 1998 and the nursing home has been there since the ‘50’s. Zirkle noted that the zoning ordinance also allows a non-conforming use to be expanded and this allowed the county to build the new nursing home facility.

    The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the change, with planning commission chairman Steve Stevick noting that this will not set a precedent under the new zoning ordinance. The supervisors also voted unanimously to accept the change.

    The next step was to approve the special use permit for the hospice house. The Hospice House will be a 5,000 square foot facility providing four resident suits. It will be possible to expand it by 3,000 square feet, allowing an additional four resident suits.

    Brad Robinson, a planner with the county, said that the site is already prepared, due to site work for the Group Home. Public water and sewer are available. The Hospice House will use the existing entrance from Falling Creek Road to the Group Home.

    A question had been raised about whether there is a graveyard on the site. Assistant County Administrator Frank Rogers said that he spoke with people living nearby about this. He said that there may be a grave in a line of trees on the old county landfill property, but that is not on the Hospice House site. He said a survey was conducted of the site, that Hospice House will lease, when the Group Home was built, and no grave was found.

    Representatives of Bedford Hospice House spoke of the need for this facility. James Vest said that his wife had hospice service at home because she did not want to die in a noisy, cold sterile environment. Her last two weeks were difficult and having a hospice house available would have made the situation better because such a facility could provide 24/7 care.

    Linda Daniel said that when her father-in-law became terminally ill, he had to go in a nursing home. They would have preferred a hospice house.

    Michael Cross, who has been part of the effort since a steering committee was set up five years ago, said that all area hospice services say that they wish there was such a facility. He added that there is a substantial population within 50 miles that will need such a facility. He said that the fact that they were able to raise $1.8 million in a relatively short time shows the degree of local interest.

    The planning commission unanimously recommended the special use permit and the supervisors unanimously approved it.

   

    “I think it’s a wonderful thing,” commented District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard.

   

    In a final business item, clearing the way for the hospice house, the supervisors unanimously approved a lease agreement. The lease is for 25 years with five, five-year renewals.