Firsthealth Cancer Center Rendering

FirstHealth will build this cancer center on Page Road across from its heart center.

FirstHealth has received final approval for its plans to build a four-story comprehensive outpatient cancer center on Page Road across from its main hospital campus in Pinehurst.

The Village Council voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to rezone a 6.32-acre site for the 120,000-square-foot facility and adjoining four-level parking deck with 400 spaces. Both sides agreed to make some concessions.

The council agreed to waive a number of its zoning requirements to accommodate the facility on that site: the 75-foot maximum building height, the 15-acre minimum lot size, the rear setback and allowing the parking deck to front on Page Road.

As a result of discussions during the Planning and Zoning Board meeting last month, FirstHealth officials also agreed to a number of concessions to ease some concerns about the project.

Those include making the facade of the parking deck facing Page Road look more like the adjoining cancer center as much as possible, adding a 10-foot landscape buffer with the adjoining property behind the facility and screening the solar panels on top of the parking deck.

FirstHealth is also conducting a traffic impact analysis required by the N.C. Department of Transportation and the village to determine if any improvements such as turn lanes will be needed to Page Road, which is state maintained.

The center is expected to generate an additional 2,900 trips a day, according to FirstHealth’s presentation. Officials said the existing road network could accommodate the additional traffic.

Council member Kevin Drum asked FirstHealth officials for “a favor” to “go a little overboard” on the landscaping.

“You guys are leaders over there,” he said in reference to the various medical offices and facilities in the hospital district. “I’d like to see you go a little farther with landscaping … to go as far as you can with the aesthetics. I am real excited about this.”

FirstHealth CEO Mickey Foster responded, “Our patients deserve this.”

“It makes a difference … very good for the soul,” Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said, noting that she has been with friends undergoing chemotherapy in a windowless basement that is “just horrible.”

Council members praised FirstHealth’s plans for the cancer center.

“I think everyone who visits our community is literally knocked out that we have such an incredible healthcare institution right here in this lovely bucolic setting in Pinehurst," council member Judy Davis said. "We are just so fortunate to have this resource available to all of our residents in Pinehurst and all of Moore County.”

Mayor Pro Tem John Bouldry added that FirstHealth also draws patients from surrounding counties and elsewhere in the state because of its “extraordinary reputation.” He said this is a “wonderful, well-designed” facility.

“It is very impressive,” he said.

Before voting, the council held a required public hearing. Dr. Carter Grine, who owns Pinehurst Dermatology that adjoins the site, said he is in favor of the hospital’s plans but that he is concerned about possible disruptions to his practice during construction, such as noise and runoff.

“I am excited to see such an amazing thing happen,” Grine said of the cancer center. “For my practice, it is going to be a burden.”

He said when the old medical clinic on the property was torn down last year, his building shook and his patients “were scared.”

“I don’t know if this will be three years of that again,” Grine said of the amount of time it will take to construct the center.

He added that his parking lot already floods now and is that he is concerned about runoff from the construction site.

Phillip Picerno with LKC Engineering assured Grine that their stormwater system would prevent runoff from reaching surrounding property. He said they would also work with the contractors and Grine to try to minimize any disruptions to his practice.

In their presentation to the council, Dr. Daniel Barnes, vice president of oncology at Firsthealth and president of FirstHealth Physicians’ Group, said a comprehensive outpatient cancer center is needed because of an increase in the incidents of cancer in its service area and growth in the population in general.

“This is creating a demand for oncology services,” Barnes said, adding that FirstHealth needs additional staff and space for its programs.

He said during the planning board meeting last month that recent statistics show there were more than 2,000 new cancer diagnoses in its six-county primary service area and more than 5,000 in its 11-county secondary service area in 2018.

Barnes said the current cancer program is “spread across the FirstHealth campus.

“Often times patients need to go between multiple locations to receive all the care they need,” he said. “A comprehensive cancer center brings them all under one roof … allows everything to be in one location and truly be patient centric. Our goal is to create the best experience possible for patients undergoing one of the scariest times in their life, the diagnosis of cancer.”

Barnes said the current facilities are “outdated” and “behind the times” when compared with other healthcare systems in the state.

“A comprehensive cancer center allows us to make sure we have the most updated equipment while focusing the patient experience,” he said.

He said the area where patients will receive chemotherapy will have windows looking out on the healing garden so they will be in an “environment conducive to healing and is also comforting as they go through this process.”

Barnes also said FirstHealth offers a wide variety of clinical trials, “much more than is typical for a hospital our size.”

“In order to be able to continue clinical trials and offer the most up to date, cutting-edge medicine, we need to be able to attract the providers as well as the staff in specialty oncology fields,” he said. “We feel a comprehensive cancer center will do that.”

FirstHealth is currently using some of the property on Page Road for two parking lots. The cancer center will face Page Road, with the parking deck to north would be connected by a covered walkway. There would also be additional ground level parking in front and to the side of the center, and at the eastern portion connecting to Aviemore Drive.

The main entrance would be on Page Road North, with a single lane coming and two lanes going out.

Barnes said construction is expected to take three years, with the new cancer opening in October or November 2022.

Foster, who has been CEO at FirstHealth for three months, said they are “10 years behind from a facility perspective” for oncology services, adding that a number of other healthcare systems such as Duke, UNC, Cone and Wake Forest- Baptist have built comprehensive cancer centers in the last 10 years. He said this will allow more local residents to receive their cancer treatments here instead of going elsewhere. He said the No. 1 reason people leave the area for treatment they could get here is oncology.

“This is the right thing to do,” he said.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com

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