In the latest in a surge of health care-related development in the west metro, plans are moving forward for Hennepin County Medical Center to build an outpatient care facility in Minnetonka.

It's part of an overall strategy by HCMC to brings its services to suburbs, where the population is aging and research has found that some consumers are reluctant to go to downtown Minneapolis for health care.

The proposal, submitted by Opus Development Corp., calls for a three-story, 121,000-square-foot facility at 10955 Wayzata Blvd. The HCMC Suburban Clinic would provide specialty surgical services, including outpatient-only surgery, gastrointestinal procedures, advanced imaging procedures and surgical consultation.

The site is part of a 2008 redevelopment project called the Crest Ridge Corporate Center. Half of the 14-acre development is already occupied by an office building built in 2009, which houses Syngenta, a Swiss agricultural corporation.

On Jan. 7, the Minnetonka City Council approved a zoning variance to allow a medical clinic at the site.

Officials at HCMC cautioned that they are still three to four months away from beginning construction, and only have an agreement with Opus for "preliminary project management and design services."

"We have not formally made the decision yet," said Scott Wordelman, vice president of ambulatory services at HCMC. "We continue to do our planning and we are continuing to move through our own internal review processes to make the definitive decision on what we are doing."

Hwy. 100 boundary

HCMC has been looking to build throughout the metro since a new facilities development plan was enacted in 2007, which laid out a strategy to upgrade facilities and bring services closer to suburban residents. In the years following, HCMC has built a number of clinics in the suburbs surrounding Minneapolis.

After doing some market research, HCMC found that Hwy. 100 serves as a rough boundary for new health care facilities. Residents living east of Hwy. 100 are generally willing to go into Minneapolis for health care, while residents west of Hwy. 100 demonstrated a greater demand for local clinics.

"When I started in the business, it was pretty clearly a hospital-centric model, and certainly here at HCMC that is what we had many years ago," said Mike Harristhal, vice president of public policy at HCMC.

"In 2007 we acknowledged that we needed to evolve from a hospital-centric system to moving more of the care closer to the consumers."

Other health care providers have been building all over the west metro as well. On Jan. 7, WestHealth opened a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency department addition to their campus at Interstate 494 and Hwy. 55 in Plymouth. UnitedHealth opened a brand-new 10-story headquarters in Minnetonka in August and is working on two eight-story office buildings in Eden Prairie.

The uptick in health care-related development figures to continue as the suburban population ages and provisions from the Affordable Care Act are phased in.

According to U.S. Census data, in 2000 the median age of a Minnetonka resident was 41, and 42.4 percent of the city's population was 45 or older. In 2010 the median age had risen to 45, and 50 percent of Minnetonka was 45 or older.

Minnetonka does not have a long-term strategy related to health care facilities and does not partake in any efforts to attract development from the health care industry, according to City Planner Loren Gordon.

"Fit within the community is important as is access to health care," Gordon said in an e-mail. "For this development, there was extensive involvement of the neighbors, developer and city to ensure all aspects of development were addressed to everyone's satisfaction."

Ben Johnson is a Twin Cities freelance writer.