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Forsyth County approves medical rehab facility on Sanders Road
HealthSouth 042619 web
HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Forsyth County, LLC has plans to operate a hospital and health service in a 74,500-square-foot building with 160 parking spaces on Sanders Road. (2019 Google)

Over the last three years, Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills has had to take her father to Dahlonega and Fulton County for physical rehab appointments because Forsyth County lacked the kind of facility he needed.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved a new medical rehabilitation facility on Sanders Road on Thursday, though nearby residents say they still have reservations about the project’s impact on the area and expressed frustration with the process.

The board voted unanimously at Thursday’s regular meeting to approve an amendment of zoning conditions and a conditional-use permit for HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Forsyth County, LLC to operate a medical rehabilitation facility in a proposed 74,500-square-foot building on 9.2 acres at 1165, 1175 and 1195 Sanders Road.

The facility’s first phase of development would include 50 beds and add an additional 30 during the second phase. The facility would operate around the clock and treat patients who have suffered medical emergencies like a stroke or undergone significant medical procedures like joint replacement, according to Carl Westmoreland with Encompass Health, a Birmingham-based company.

The zoning conditions were amended to drop the number of loading spaces for the facility from 8 to 2 and increase the number of parking spaces from 97 to 154. The stakeholders involved worked up until the moments just before the public hearing on further details, including the buffer between the facility and nearby Grove Park subdivision, a retaining wall on the rear of the property and the type of fence on top of the retaining wall.

“I think it will be a great addition to the community and very needed once we can get to where everybody is not being overly burdened by each other,” said Chairwoman Laura Semanson, who represents District 5 where the property is located.

Grove Park still expressed apprehension about the facility.

They didn’t want to see the “hard, big block building,” said Sharon Housley, a resident of the subdivision, or the light that could potentially come from the facility. They also lamented the number of changes developers made to the project’s site plans.

“We are taking a big risk,” Housley said. “The site plans we have seen have been all over the place.”

Grove Park residents have been battling efforts to develop around the subdivision for more than a decade. The property was last zoned commercial business district in 2006 to make way for a “big box” shopping center, according to county documents. Original plans included 95,000 square feet of retail space with 360 parking spaces.

Grove Park residents went through prolonged negotiations with the property owner at the time and the county to come up with a list of conditions that all parties agreed on, but the development fizzled.

HealthSouth first approached the community about its plans for a medical facility in July 2014, according to county documents. In a letter to county staff, the Grove Park Community Association opposed HealthSouth’s plans because it would “irreparably injure the quality of our citizens’ life, health, security, privacy, de-value their residential properties and interfere with their right to use their properties as intended.”

Westmoreland said the HealthSouth facility would be better for the county than the previous retail development plans. Studies showed that 109 residents had to go out of the county to get the kind of treatment the HealthSouth facility will offer, Westmoreland said.

Robert Long, vice president of economic development with the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said the project would bring $18 million of investment and more than 100 “good-paying jobs” in one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the county.

Northside Hospital Forsyth also supported the HealthSouth facility, Long said; they would be able to send patients there.

“I think this is something that is very valuable to our community, having a rehab hospital that is in closer proximity,” Long said.

Massage license revoked

Commissioners unanimously voted to revoke the license of Fanyi Xu of Yan Massage LLC for incurring two violations of the county’s massage and spa ordinance in early May.

Xu was cited on May 7 by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for improper touching and not keeping adequate lighting. Another employee was cited the same day for not keeping adequate records of customers.

Sgt. Tom Little with the sheriff’s office told the board that on May 7 an undercover deputy entered Yan Massage, at 4415 Front 9 Dr., Suite 200, and was met by Xu, who escorted him to a back room. During a massage, Xu allegedly touched the deputy improperly, at which point the deputy sent a signal to other deputies waiting outside who entered the business and started an investigation.

Little said the ceiling lights were off, and the room was only illuminated by “mood lighting” on a wall. Little also said investigators found other customers at the business but no record made of their presence as required by the county ordinance.

Xu originally told the board through a translator that a different employee had improperly touched the undercover deputy and that she had fired the employee. Xu also said she had installed 40-watt lights throughout the business and instructed the business’s staff to “not have anybody with this improper touching ever again.”

Little said the sheriff’s office investigation found that Xu, not another employee, improperly touched the undercover deputy.

When offered the chance to refute Little’s account, Xu declined.