County Backs Medical Office Change

SNOW HILL — In response to a growing trend in healthcare, county officials this week approved a text amendment allowing multiple physicians to more easily share a common building and space that would not be allowed under the current county zoning code.

Attorney Mark Cropper presented the proposed text amendment to the County Commissioners on Tuesday on behalf of his client, Palmer Gillis, a local developer who specializes in developing medical office “strip malls” of sorts and other shared facilities. The county’s current C-1 neighborhood commercial district often makes it difficult for multiple doctors, healthcare providers and other medical-related uses to share the same facilities.

The existing county code for the C-1 neighborhood commercial district sets a cap on the number of individual businesses that can share a common building and on the square footage allowed for each enterprise. For example, in a 20,000-square-foot business, four doctors or medical offices would be allowed to have a space of 5,000 square feet each under the existing code.

However, caps on the square footage and the number of individual businesses allowed have caused some difficulties for buildings developed with healthcare clients in mind. Cropper pointed out the simple four businesses at 5,000 square feet each formula is not always practical in the medical field. For example, one physician or healthcare provider could need 8,000 square feet of a 20,000 square-foot building, while another might only need 3,000 square feet.

“The way it’s written, you can’t do that under the code,” said Cropper. “The code limits a 20,000-square-foot building for four doctors using 5,000 square feet each, but it’s becoming less and less practical. The way healthcare is evolving, an economy of scale is so important.”

Cropper pointed out the text amendment would change the size, scale or appearance of a building from the public’s perception, but would allow multiple doctors to divide up the space based on their needs with a shared common area.

“This is more of a clarification than a substantial change,” he said. “It doesn’t change the use or the appearance of a facility from the road.”

Commissioner Judy Boggs drew from her past experience in the healthcare field to endorse the code change.

“It seems to make so much sense, it almost seems like an oversight the last time around when we wrote the code this way,” she said. “This is so much more efficient.”