A hearing this week to gather input on Virtua Health's plan to build a $1 billion medical campus in Westampton led to an outpouring of support from most of the residents who attended.
Next, the New Jersey Health Planning Board will decide at a meeting April 13 in Trenton whether to grant a preliminary approval. Judy Donlen, the board chairwoman, said the proposal will be explored in greater depth at that meeting.
Virtua's hospital complex plan was scrutinized Monday night at the board's hearing at the Hilton Garden Inn in Westampton. Several in the audience of about 75 people raised concerns about pollution and increased traffic, while others said the project - which includes a nine-story hospital that would replace Virtua's four-story hospital in Mount Holly - would bring economic growth to the area in Burlington County and thousands of new jobs.
Virtua Health executives James Rivard and Matthew Zuino gave a brief presentation on the scope of the project. "It would cost almost as much to renovate the Mount Holly hospital as it would to design and build an entirely new hospital from the ground up," Rivard said.
Rivard said all patients would have private rooms. He said there would be 339 beds when the hospital is completed, projected for 2022.
All but two of the 10 residents who spoke supported the project, though several encouraged Virtua to address concerns about traffic congestion.
Westampton Mayor Andre Daniels said he believes the campus will "bring a boon" to the town. He said a new hospital and upgraded infrastructure are needed in the area.
Bob Davies, a longtime resident, said the plan was "half-baked" and lacked a traffic study. Rivard said that would be done later in the process.
John Anderson, a Westampton resident and advocate for a national water trail designation for the nearby Rancocas Creek, has opposed the project and threatened to file a court challenge. In a letter he sent to Daniels and released to reporters Monday morning, he said the project will pollute the town.
"I for one am not seduced by a promise of a billion dollar baby in Westampton," he wrote. "Do not forget about traffic congestion ... the permanent destruction about Westampton's quality of life."
There have been no major changes in the plan since it was unveiled at a town meeting in Westampton in August 2015, according to Peggy Leone, a spokeswoman for Marlton-based Virtua Health. She declined to provide a copy of the new plan before the meeting, saying it could be reviewed by the public at the Burlington County and New Jersey State Libraries, or at the offices of the Health Department.
The renderings depict the nine-story hospital, surgical and rehabilitation centers, a hospice and assisted living complex, offices and other buildings on the former 110-acre Hogan Farm, off Routes 541 and 630. Together, the structures would have about two million square feet of space. About 3,400 employees would work there.
Virtua acquired the farm in 2014 for $10 million. When hospital representatives presented the plans, they said the site would be developed over 20 years. It is close to the Burlington County Library and Amphitheater.