Most hospitals use excess land to build ancillary services or research centers. But Bozeman (Mont.) Deaconess Hospital wants to craft an entire neighborhood.
The 70-bed, stand-alone hospital has proposed developing more than 400 acres of vacant fields surrounding its campus in a mixed-use style known as "new urbanism" -- homes and businesses developed in clusters to encourage walking and reduce urban sprawl.
Bozeman Deaconess purchased the unincorporated land in the 1960s as part of a long-range plan to move the campus away from the city center. The new hospital opened in 1986, and little of the remaining acreage is expected to be used for healthcare purposes. But hospital officials say careful development could fulfill its mission to ensure community well-being.
"We're looking at a more traditional neighborhood with lots of opportunities for walking and bicycle trails, and maybe narrower streets that cause traffic to slow down," said Bozeman Deaconess Chief Executive Officer John Nordwick.
He said no details on the cost of the project or the number of homes and businesses have been worked out yet.
Though many urban hospitals developed or redeveloped surrounding land in the 1980s, the scale of this proposed project is unheard of in small communities like Bozeman, said James Rice, president of the Governance Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
"Urban hospitals involved themselves in development because many were in deteriorating neighborhoods, and they didn't want patients to go through war zones to receive healthcare. Rural hospitals often don't have the same motivation," Rice said.
Another concern is whether the project would endanger not-for-profit Bozeman Deaconess' tax-exempt status. Hospital officials say they aren't concerned.
The project still lacks details, but it has already drawn detractors. Residents of a neighboring subdivision have expressed concerns about how the scale of the development would affect them.
The hospital's proposed amendment to its master plan, which is needed to get the project under way, was unanimously opposed on June 23 by the city's planning board.
That board's recommendation has been forwarded to the city and Gallatin County commissions for final consideration. Both bodies agreed to Bozeman Deaconess' request to delay voting until September.
"We've been told that the (local governing boards) would like to do this within the current process, such as having it go forward as a planned development, and we wanted to have the time to tweak the proposal," Nordwick said.