Two major health care companies plan to open competing hospitals in Gilbert in the same year on opposite sides of Val Vista Drive.
Banner Health and Catholic Healthcare West are in escrow for land just south of the future San Tan Freeway stretch of Loop 202, but the Gilbert Town Council must approve general plan amendments for both projects before construction. Both companies hope to open in 2006.
A recent land deal by Banner Health to abandon an approved hospital site a few miles away — at Ray and Greenfield roads — has made the two groups neighbors. But both say the actions of their competitors will not affect future plans.
"We don’t view this as a race," said Paul Gilbert, an attorney representing Banner Health. "If two hospitals are approved and two are under construction, we’re still going forward."
Attorney Ralph Pew, who represents the property owners of the Catholic Healthcare site, said the market should determine the outcome.
"This is not a matter of choosing one over the other," Pew said. "We’re going forward with ours and they can go forward with theirs."
Scott Nordlund, Catholic Healthcare vice president of strategy and business development for Arizona and Nevada, said he had "no reaction" to Banner Health’s new acquisition.
"We’re focused on our relationship with the community . . . and on what we could bring," Nordlund said.
Banner Health is a Phoenixbased company that operates four Mesa hospitals, including Banner Desert Medical Center, formerly Desert Samaritan Hospital, as well as Banner Mesa Medical Center, Banner Baywood Medical Center and Banner Baywood Heart Hospital. It also owns Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. Banner took over the the former Samaritan and Lutheran hospitals.
Catholic Healthcare operates Chandler Regional Medical Center, as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and Barrow Neurological Institute, both in Phoenix.
Both companies want to build in the Gilbert market to serve the fast-growing far south East Valley, which lacks a regional hospital. Before that happens, however, the county, Gilbert and public will have their say.
Banner Health’s former hospital site near Ray and Greenfield roads was purchased in 1999 by Lutheran Health Systems, which merged with Banner Health later that year.
Susan Doria, Banner Health senior vice president for strategic development, said the company did not believe it was a good site because of a lack of freeway access and the Union Pacific Railroad track and started looking for a different location a year ago, with increased activity beginning earlier this year.
Banner Health was able to purchase the Val Vista Drive site, which is just less than 40 acres and lies in unincorporated county land. The land needs to be rezoned for a hospital and must undergo a minor general plan amendment, which can be approved by the Gilbert Town Council at any time during the year.
Paul Gilbert said Banner Health plans to file a rezoning case with Maricopa County as early as next week, file the minor general plan amendment with the town and later request annexation into Gilbert. He said the zoning is being done at the county level to avoid a possible town referendum.
For a successful citizens’ referendum in Gilbert, fewer than than 1,000 signatures are needed. At the county level, it’s more than 100,000.
The decision, however, does not sit well with Gilbert officials.
"We’re extremely uncomfortable with that, especially something of that magnitude," Gilbert Town Manager George Pettit said. "If in fact it’s something to benefit the community, bring it in and run it through the town’s process."
Pettit said the county has indicated it will not rezone property if it does not conform with the area’s general plan.
Gilbert planning director Jerry Swanson said it typically takes four to six months for a minor general plan amendment to reach the council, which makes the final decision.
Catholic Healthcare, whose site is inside town limits, filed a major general plan amendment — for properties greater than 40 acres — late last month. These amendments can only be approved once a year, according to state legislation. Swanson said Catholic Healthcare met the deadline to have its request heard at the Town Council’s annual major general plan amendment hearing in December, putting both projects on a similar schedule with the town.
Banner Health hopes to begin construction in May and open in the first three months of 2006, Doria said. Catholic Healthcare did not have a construction time frame for its 60-acre project, but expects to open "within three years," Nordlund said.