Plans are moving ahead to build a rehabilitation hospital off Harden Boulevard, across from the Lakeside Village main entrance. For years, a two-story office building had been planned for the vacant 8.93-acre site, but the Lakeland Planning Zoning Board this week approved changes allowing the rehab hospital.

The proposed alterations to the 20-year-old site plan for the planned unit development now go to the Lakeland City Commission for a vote.

The site is behind GTE Financial’s branch bank on Oakbridge Parkway and across Harden Boulevard from a Starbucks coffee shop, city senior planner Todd Vargo told board members at their meeting on Tuesday.

The Encompass Health rehabilitation hospital’s address would be 1201 Oakbridge Parkway and the building would face that street.

While the current PUD zoning has been in place since the early 2000s, plans for office usage go back to the early 1990s when a parking lot was built in anticipation of a future office building, Vargo said.

“That the property remains undeveloped after more than two decades suggests there is little market demand for additional office uses in this area,” Vargo said.

Last month, Encompass Health announced plans to build a free-standing, 50-bed rehabilitation hospital in Lakeland at a then-undisclosed location, saying the proposed site would allow for expansion.

The site plan presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission shows a two-story, 90-bed facility of 83,000 square feet; phase one would include 50 of the beds.

Encompass Lakeland hospital
Rendition of the proposed Lakeland rehab hospital

Birmingham-based Encompass, which was known as HealthSouth until 2018, is a private for-profit company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange under EHC. It currently operates 136 rehabilitation hospitals in the United States and Puerto Rico, including 12 in Florida and is rapidly expanding its footprint in Florida.

Encompass also has announced plans to build a 50-bed rehabilitation hospital in Clermont, and 40-bed rehabilitation hospital in St. Augustine and Pensacola. It has a 50-bed hospital under construction in north Tampa.

Rehabilitation hospitals provide intensive therapy to more medically complex patients than provided at nursing homes and the two types of facilities require different licenses. Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center’s Bannasch Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation Medicine provides similar services in a 32-bed in-hospital facility.

The site plan for Encompass’s Lakeland facility shows that patient rooms would be on the on west side of the building; trash receptacles, oxygen tank storage and the service yard on the northeast corner; a kitchen and dining room on the east side; administrative offices on the second floor on the east side; and entrances on the south side facing Oakbridge Parkway.

The only driveway would be off Oakbridge Parkway with additional access to the existing bank.

Traffic volume would be relatively low compared with an office facility, Charles Barmby, the city’s transportation manager, told the planning board. A traffic analysis shows the existing street infrastructure can handle the volume.

Patients would be admitted by appointment only and would be brought to the facility by family members or by non-emergency transport ambulance, Vargo said.

An existing large stormwater pond separates the planned facility from the Stonewater housing development to the east, Vargo said.

The developer has agreed to remove invasive Brazilian pepper trees along the pond’s bank and add landscaping of tall canopy trees, including red maple and bald cypress trees, along with shrubs to further shield the hospital from the view of neighboring residents, Vargo said.

Major changes to planned unit developments, such as this proposal, require approval by the City Commission and that is the next step for property owner, Oakbridge Venture, LC.

City planning staff analysis and recommendation:

Meeting video:

Planning & Zoning Board Meeting 2020.08.18 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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