Plans to revitalize the old Mountain View Elementary heritage building were given the support of council last week, despite concerns by local doctors that the addition of a new medical clinic in town could hurt healthcare in Revelstoke.
Council gave third reading to the rezoning and Heritage Revitalization Agreement that would allow prospective owner Gareth Jones turn the old school into a mixture of medical clinic, craft distillery, restaurant and private apartment.
They did so despite concerns from the Selkirk Medical Group that allowing a new clinic into the community that is not affiliated with Queen Victoria Hospital would hurt the ability to recruit doctors to Revelstoke. They wanted council to not allow medical use in the building, but as was pointed out during the hearing by city planner Dean Strachan, medical clinics are allowed in every C1-zoned building in town.
“We’re not really not solving anything by excluding a use that is enjoyed by every other C1 zone in the community,” said Mayor Mark McKee. “That’s the problem that I see. We’re contemplating taking away something in this property that is available in every other C1 property.”
The public hearing focused on the proposed clinic. Three doctors from the Selkirk Medical Group attended to talk about their doctor recruitment strategy and how the opening of a new clinic could hurt their ability to maintain surgical services at QVH.
“We have concerns about a proposed new clinic in town and what that might do to our ability to retain and recruit people at the hospital,” Dr. Cam MacLeod, the managing associate of the Selkirk Medical Group, told council.
The doctors’ presentations were preceded by a letter to council outlining their issues. Primary amongst them was they recently worked hard to recruit four new doctors to the community in order to continue providing surgical services at QVH. The new doctors were specifically recruited because of their skills in surgery or anaesthesia.
Part of the pitch to these new doctors was they would also have a viable family practice to complement their earnings at the hospital here.
“We have real concerns if there’s a new clinic with new doctors that it might reduce the viability of these physicians’ practices,” said MacLeod.
He said if the new recruits’ family practices aren’t strong enough, they might go elsewhere, which would hurt the hospital’s ability to offer surgery.
“It’s critical to have people with these skills in town for emergency obstetrics and surgical procedures to continue,” he said. “The reality is we’re over-serviced at this point from a clinical point of view.”
Dr. Vikki Haines, who was recruited for her surgical skills 3.5 years ago, said the current doctors had received no contact from Jones about his plans for the clinic. “Our wish is that any further development of medical services in our community is done in a collaborative way with the current medical practitioners, our hospital services, and the larger body of health care of B.C.” she told council.
Jones, for his part, said his goal was to restore the heritage property, but that he needed a viable business inside to make it feasible.
“I think what we’ve got here is a proposal that meets both the needs of myself to guarantee we have enough revenue to bring this property back to life, but also meet the needs of the community, in that we can keep this property a vibrant part of the community, very much at the heart of it, and allow the public to have regular access to it,” he told council. “Ultimately, I want to secure it for future generations.”
He acknowledged one physician has been recruited for the clinic and the plan is to increase that number to five in the long-term.
“This also has to be seen in the context of this town growing in the next 15-20 years,” he said. “This is the case of putting the seed down at this stage and making sure we have the conditions set for it.”
For council, they focused their decision on the land-use question, not the medical services issue. They were being asked to re-zone the property to commercial, while the Heritage Revitalization Agreement would set out the allowable uses in the building.
Councillor Connie Brothers asked if a clinic could be opened anywhere in the community. Strachan replied one could open in any C1-zoned building, and that doctors are also allowed to operate out of their homes.
Concerns were expressed about hurting healthcare in the community, but also that removing medical services as a use in the building would mean Jones was being denied a use that was available in all other commercial zones.
“I encourage Mr. Jones to meet with the Selkirk Medical Group and start building a relationship to ensure the quality medical care we’ve experienced over the years will continue,” said McKee.
Council unanimously voted to approve third reading. The rezoning and heritage revitalization agreement are expected to go in front of council for final adoption this Tuesday, Dec. 20.