Outside legal counsel authorized to handle Marshfield Clinic appeal
County Board of Adjustment to consider whether to allow hospital addition in Minocqua
BY KEVIN BONESKE
The hiring of outside legal counsel has been authorized for the Oneida County Board of Adjustment to hear an appeal from the Marshfield Clinic, which is seeking a conditional use permit from the county to build a hospital addition to its current clinic in Minocqua.
The county’s Planning and Development Committee voted 3-2 on June 14 to deny the Marshfield Clinic a permit to construct a 72,000-square-foot addition, based on the application not meeting a standard for approval that states, “The establishment, maintenance or operation of the conditional use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare.”
Committee members Scott Holewinski, Jack Sorensen and Mike Timmons voted to deny the permit, while Dave Hintz and Billy Fried favored the permit’s issuance.
Being that the county corporation counsel’s office provided the committee legal advice leading up to the denial vote, county planning and zoning director Karl Jennrich said it is now his department’s and corporation counsel office’s job to defend that position, thereby having a conflict of interest to at the same time represent the Board of Adjustment hearing an appeal.
“Counsel will be representing the Planning and Development Committee or Oneida County,” Jennrich said at Tuesday’s joint county Administration and Labor Relations/Employee Services Committee meeting. “Counsel cannot technically represent the Oneida County Board of Adjustment, also, or his office cannot.”
Assistant corporation counsel Michael Fugle said the Board of Adjustment would look at the permit application from the Marshfield Clinic “with fresh eyes” by conducting its own hearing as part of the appeal process.
“We have to provide outside counsel for the Board of Adjustment, or they would have no counsel,” supervisor Robb Jensen said leading up to the joint committee vote.
Though Jennrich noted an appeal had yet to be filed with the county within 30 days of the formal notice made in late June that the permit was denied, the Marshfield Clinic has publicly announced it plans to appeal the Planning and Development Committee’s decision.
“Although we are disappointed in the committee’s decision, we remain resolute in our intention to build a hospital in the Northwoods,” Marshfield Clinic regional medical director Bill Melms said in a statement. “Marshfield Clinic is committed to providing our patients the state-of-the-art, integrated care that this facility will provide and the community deserves. We will complete the paperwork to initiate an appeal by the applicable deadline.”
Though Melms has noted the site in Minocqua is the Marshfield Clinic’s first choice to build an acute care facility in northern Wisconsin, he has also alluded to possible “alternatives should Minocqua not pan out,” such as seeking to build a hospital nearby in the town of Arbor Vitae in Vilas County.
When the Marshfield Clinic had previously appealed an Oneida County Planning and Development Committee decision to deny a permit at the clinic site in Minocqua for a skilled nursing facility, supervisor Ted Cushing noted the county incurred around $25,000 in legal expenses to hire outside legal counsel for the Board of Adjustment, which also denied issuing a permit.
The joint committee’s motion, which didn’t set a monetary limit, calls for funding the outside legal counsel’s expenses out of the county’s contingency fund and doesn’t require approval of the full County Board.
In the event there wouldn’t be enough money in the contingency fund to pay for the outside legal counsel, county finance director Darcy Smith said money then would have to come from the general fund, for which County Board approval is required.
The Marshfield Clinic applied in January for a conditional use permit to build a hospital in Minocqua that would have a surgery center, 12 in-patient beds, emergency room, imaging and lab. The proposed single-story addition, which has an estimated price tag from $30-35 million, would be built to the southwest of the existing clinic and designed for potential future expansion, vertically and horizontally, according to the permit application.
If approved, the project would place another hospital in the Minocqua-Woodruff area in close proximity to the existing Howard Young Medical Center that is part of Ministry Health Care and owned by Ascension. Representatives of HYMC have objected to the Marshfield Clinic’s proposal. HYMC also has its own multi-million-dollar renovation and construction project in the works.
Marshfield Clinic’s hospital addition proposal previously received the backing of both the Minocqua Plan Commission and the Town Board after both bodies heard from supporters and opponents before the permit application was forwarded to the county’s Planning and Development Committee, which held its own public hearing April 27 and also conducted an on-site inspection of the property May 10.