Fredericksburg Planning Commission recommends approval of MWHC rezoning plans

by | May 8, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Government, Health & Wellness

Eric Fletcher was listening.  

Mary Washington Healthcare’s Senior Vice President heard the litany of concerns that were voiced two weeks ago over the hospital system’s proposed rezoning — plans that would include the demolition of the Kid’s Station daycare center currently located on its campus.  

“Primarily, what I heard was a lot of why—why this rezoning, why now, why does Mary Washington Healthcare need this?” Fletcher said Wednesday, during a continuation of the public hearing before the Fredericksburg Planning Commission. “I want to take some time to share the answers to the why.” 

The presentation that followed served as the most comprehensive explanation to date of MWHC’s expansion plans and the motives behind them. Upon its conclusion, the planning commission voted 6-1 to recommend approving the project, which will go before City Council later this month. Commissioner Dugan Caswell voted against approval. 

Fletcher provided broad context for the project, starting with the region’s “dire” need for primary healthcare providers. Citing data from the most recent Rappahannock Area Community Needs Assessment, Fletcher said the Fredericksburg area has just 42.5 primary care physicians per 100,000 population, a problematic figure well below the national average of 80.

“In your healthcare system, MWHC is going to fix it,” he said. “The principal way we’re going to do that graduate medical education program is going to fix it.” 

Fletcher said that the hospital system’s fledgling graduate medical education program — which launched last year — will produce 157 medical residents by 2029; an estimated 50 physicians will have completed the program in that same timeframe, he added.

One of the three buildings slated for construction  — a three-floor conference center and education facility — will house those residents, Fletcher said. Dr. Ann Baidwan, one of the program’s inaugural internal medicine residents, appeared before the commission to share her excitement about the planned training space and simulation labs.

“Over the past year, I’ve grown to feel like a true part of the community,” said Baidwan, “which is why myself and many of my co-residents do intend to stay in the area, either to work or continue our training regarding our future plans.”

Speaking of future plans, commissioners had asked to hear from a KinderCare representative when the public hearing was continued. While that didn’t exactly come to fruition Wednesday, MWHC did share a new communication from KinderCare Senior District Leader Stacy Butler. 

The email, which was sent to the daycare center’s families on April 25 — the day following the initial public hearing — hinted at an imminent announcement for a replacement childcare center.

“Currently, we are very close to closing a deal on that new permanent location,” the email reads in part. “While we don’t have specific details to share, we will keep you informed and will have more information in the coming weeks. We promise to update you as soon as we are able.” 

Three members of the MWHC Healthcare Board of Trustees — including chairman Bruce Davis — also pledged publicly that there would be no lapse between the closure of the current Kid’s Station and the opening of a replacement center. 

MWHC tweaked its plans for the phasing of construction, reducing the project from three to two phases while also clarifying that approximately 15% of the Kid’s Station playground would be removed during construction. A slide from Fletcher’s presentation entitled “Daycare: Access and Construction Mitigation” noted that Kid’s Station would be shielded from ongoing work by a “double-fenced buffer with a windscreen.”

“We are extremely comfortable with their phased plan and are confident that your children will continue to receive high-quality care in a safe environment with minimal to no disruption,” the letter to KinderCare parents read.

One such parent, Desmond Villalba, wasn’t convinced.

“The people who work at that daycare and care for our children, I trust them,” Villalba said. “I trust the people who work up front, and I trust the teachers. I don’t frankly trust the corporation that runs it or manages it.”

In comments shortly before casting their roll call vote, several commissioners thanked the public for its scrutiny of the project and implored them to continue providing input as it moves ahead to city council. 

“If we pass this rezoning, it may feel like a loss,” commissioner Adam Lynch said. “But really, it’s a win. You’ve successfully extended the period that you’re going to be accessing childcare. Through your positive engagement, you managed to extract some really meaningful concessions… 

“And it’s not over yet. You have to continue to hold Mary Washington Healthcare and KinderCare to the promises they made tonight.” 

Mary Washington Healthcare, an individual or organization central to this story, is a major donor to the Free Press. Donors do not influence newsroom operations.

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