By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The courts and the city of Marshfield are now directly involved in the conflict between Ministry Health Care and Marshfield Clinic. The most recent point of contention between the two health care entities involves building permits that the city of Marshfield granted to Marshfield Clinic in July for work on its East Wing.
Marshfield Clinic is remodeling its East Wing to include comfort and recovery suites and also potentially a number of hospital beds. Ministry’s contention is that instead of building permits Marshfield Clinic should have had to receive conditional use permits.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals did not agree with Ministry’s argument and in September denied their appeal that conditional use permits should have been required. Ministry has now filed a lawsuit in Wood County Circuit Court asking for a review of the city’s process in granting the permits, that the judgment by the Zoning Board of Appeals be reversed, and the two issued building permits be rescinded.
At the heart of the issue and Ministry’s argument is the word “development.” Section 18-166 (3) of the Marshfield Municipal code states, “Development in the Absence or Expiration of a Campus Master Plan (CMP): In the absence of an approved CMP, or within an expired CMP, any development within the Campus Development zoning district shall be regulated as a conditional use.”
Marshfield Clinic does not — nor is it required to — have an approved master plan. Thus, Ministry contends that any development on its campus must be “regulated as a conditional use.”
At the Sept 8. Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting, Zoning Administrator Sam Schroeder said that by Ministry’s definition “any development” could mean that Marshfield Clinic would be required to get a conditional use permit to, for example, hang up a coat rack, as that would represent something new or a development. Schroeder said he did not believe it was the intent of the municipal code to regulate development so strictly with conditional use permits.
Zoning Board of Appeals member Richard Kenyon also pointed out that several permits had been issued to both Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Marshfield Clinic in the past without requiring a conditional use.
The Zoning Board of Appeals ruled against Ministry at its Sept. 8 meeting because it believed the fundamental use of the facility, from a zoning perspective, was still medical, and because the East Wing was not physically expanding its footprint as a result of the renovations.
Ministry also argues that had Marshfield Clinic developed a campus master plan, a lengthy process with multiple layers of review, it would have allowed for public comment regarding Marshfield Clinic’s future plans on its campus.
On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Marshfield Clinic Health System CEO Dr. Susan Turney offered a statement on Ministry’s lawsuit, part of which read:
“Marshfield Clinic continues to believe that a collaborative approach is the best course for providing the community with high-quality health care now and into the future, and it is very disappointing to see Ministry continue to employ tactics to disrupt our project, which would ultimately harm our ability to serve the needs of the community.
“Marshfield Clinic is confident that the city acted properly and is well within its legal authority by approving our project, and this unfortunate lawsuit will turn out to be nothing more than a delay tactic that will cost taxpayers money and ultimately be unsuccessful.”
On Oct. 8 Mayor Chris Meyer also issued a statement regarding the Ministry lawsuit. Meyer said in part, “This action (the lawsuit) was not unexpected. In fact, the city has rigorously documented the process we used in making our decision in anticipation of this action and will provide that information to the courts for their review. The city is confident that the court will confirm that we properly followed all required processes and our decision was consistent with our zoning code.”