The Pickerington Planning and Zoning Commission last week gave initial support to OhioHealth's plans to develop a medical campus on 70 acres along Refugee Road.

The Pickerington Planning and Zoning Commission last week gave initial support to OhioHealth's plans to develop a medical campus on 70 acres along Refugee Road.

On Feb. 14, commission members voted 6-0 to support rezoning 70 acres just west of the Hill Road Plaza anchored by Big Lots from "residential," "community commercial" and "planned community commercial" to "suburban office."

In doing so, the commission officially recommended the land be rezoned to allow OhioHealth to build a medical-office campus in the city.

The organization's rezoning request now will go before Pickerington City Council's city planning, projects and services committee for consideration on Feb. 22. The committee is expected to make a recommendation on the request, which then likely would be considered by the full council in March.

Additionally, the planning commission voted 6-0 on Feb. 14 to approve a conditional-use permit for OhioHealth. That permit would allow the healthcare organization to build a variety of medical offices, up to and including a hospital.

However, the conditional-use permit cannot be granted to OhioHealth until it receives final rezoning approvals from council.

"OhioHealth's very excited about this opportunity," said Raif Webster, OhioHealth's system director for design and construction. "Over the past couple decades, there's been a tremendous amount of growth in Pickerington and surrounding communities.

"OhioHealth has determined there's a need and it's the time to expand health care services into this community."

The rezoning and conditional-use permit represent the first steps toward making the OhioHealth project a reality in Pickerington.

If the rezoning is approved by council, OhioHealth is expected to move toward the purchase of the 70 acres. Currently, the landowners include Lunn and Associates, which owns approximately 52 acres of the site in question, and Stone Creek LLC, which owns approximately five acres.

The remaining land is owned by the Ebright family and had been approved for Homestead Development Co.'s construction of a $4-million, 115,230-square-foot indoor soccer complex. An attorney for Homestead last month said the developer is looking for another location in Pickerington to develop its project.

"Everything is going according to plan," said Mark Hopkins, OhioHealth's director of media relations. "We're not in contract on the land, but we have an option to buy it.

"Once (rezoning) happens, we'll go ahead and buy it. We have every reason to believe and every hope that all will go forward."

OhioHealth has yet to submit development plans for its project. Webster said the size of the facility or facilities and related services has not been determined, but he said the medical campus likely will look similar to OhioHealth's medical campus in Westerville.

Hopkins added there currently are no plans to build a hospital in Pickerington, but those plans could evolve as the organization determines the area's medical needs.

"We're not building a hospital there immediately," he said. "If it's determined down the road that's what the community needs, then we would consider building one. That would be down the road, and that's not what we would start with."

OhioHealth is a family of not-for-profit, faith-based hospitals and health care organizations that have been serving central Ohio since 1891. It currently has eight central Ohio hospitals, including Grant Medical Center and Riverside Methodist Hospitals.

Last month, OhioHealth senior operations officer Bob Gilbert said the organization is interested in Pickerington because Grant Medical Center, on South Grant Avenue in Columbus, currently sees approximately 1,500 new patients from Pickerington area each year.

At that time, Gilbert said he envisioned an OhioHealth Pickerington campus to include imaging and rehabilitation services, as well as doctor's offices and "other amenities."

Pickerington City Manager Bill Vance said residents and others with interests in the community and OhioHealth's project will have ample opportunity throughout the coming year to provide thoughts and concerns about the size and scope of the project.

"The site plan process will take place through 2012," Vance said. "That's going to be a public process. You're going to have the opportunity for input."

Webster said OhioHealth hopes to begin construction later this year or in 2013.

"It would be our goal we would potentially open a facility in 2014 sometime," he said.