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Planning takes up old hospital site rezoning

The Suffolk Planning Commission on Tuesday took up a request from City Council to change an old hospital site on North Main Street to a general commercial zoning.

The commission voted to send the request to its committee on ordinances, and have it bring back a report to the full commission.

The vacant lot where Louise Obici Memorial Hospital used to stand currently is zoned for mixed-use development, but city economic leaders hope that a general commercial zoning will “wipe the slate clean” on several years of failed plans for the land.

The city purchased the land from the hospital when it moved to its current location on Godwin Boulevard. The site was subsequently purchased by Robinson Development, the winner of a request for proposals process. Robinson Development hoped to create a mixed-use site with a movie theater as an anchor, as well as 250 residential units, 126,800 square feet of commercial and office space, a restaurant, bank, parking garage and more.

The plan, however, fell through because deals with two different theater operators never materialized. The city repurchased the site in 2008.

Kevin Hughes, director of economic development, told City Council members last month that his department hopes to begin marketing the site on a smaller scale, seeking to attract retail sites to front along Main Street. Residential and commercial uses would be placed farther back on the site.

The rezoning would not prevent the site from being changed again in the future, Planning Director Scott Mills said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Thomas Savage called the rezoning a “marketing tool,” but Mills was reluctant to classify it as such.

“The way I take it, then, this rezoning is more like a marketing tool to better be able to sell this property to potential purchasers?” Savage asked.

“I wouldn’t classify it as a marketing tool,” Mills said. “Right now, the property, to a certain degree, may have a cloud over it with the development plan that was approved and the very specific plan that it was. It does show that the city’s not tied to that development plan.”

Mills added the rezoning will return the site to the way it was when the city first acquired it.

“This would put it back in its original zoning classification,” he said. “Kind of wipe the slate clean, if you will.”

Also at the planning meeting, the commission elected its officers. Commissioner Howard Benton was elected as chairman, and Commissioner Arthur Singleton was elected as vice-chairman. The committee on ordinances now includes Singleton, Savage, Ritchie Jordan and William Perry. Perry is an addition to the committee.