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Campaign blames residents for delay in hospital construction

November 30, 1999|By TARA REILLY

Washington County Health System has embarked on a public campaign that blames five residents and their attorney for holding up the construction of a $255 million hospital off Robinwood Drive.

One of the five residents, however, said by phone Thursday the campaign isn't working.

The residents don't plan to drop an appeal that challenges a Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals decision allowing the hospital to be built next to Robinwood Medical Center, resident Charles Hongell said.

"I'm not feeling any pressure as a result of it," Hongell said of the campaign.

Hongell, Sally Hatch, Robert Hatch, Gordon Bartels and Janet Bartels are challenging the zoning decision. They have appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in an attempt to overturn the decision, and a hearing date is pending. They also appealed the decision in Washington County Circuit Court, but lost.

The attorney for the residents is William C. Wantz of Hagerstown.

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The Hatches, Bartelses and Wantz did not return phone calls.

The health system has on two days this month run large ads in The Herald-Mail that show a rendering of the new hospital as a puzzle with a piece missing. The ad states building a hospital "is like putting a puzzle together piece by piece. At Washington County Health System, we've been locking puzzle pieces together and we're almost done."

The missing piece, the ad states, is "right in the middle of the puzzle ... Five citizens and their attorney want to prevent us from building at Robinwood Medical Center ... We want to complete the puzzle soon ? it's about your health and the future of our community."

Earlier this month, hospital officials held a press conference saying the appeal process could take up to 18 months, which would cause further delay in building the new hospital. Such a delay could add $150 million to the cost of the hospital, depending on interest rates and other factors, they said. If that happens, hospital users would be paying the additional costs, they said. They also asked the residents to drop the appeal.

Ray Grahe, the hospital's vice president of finance, said Thursday the purpose of the hospital's campaign is "to appeal to the social consciousness of the (five) individuals" that the project will benefit the local community.

The hospital would replace the existing hospital on East Antietam Street in Hagerstown.

All of the required state and local approvals, financing and other plans are in place to begin the construction phase, but the appeal is holding that up, hospital officials have said.

Hongell said he and the four appellants are doing so to "protect the integrity" of the county's zoning ordinance. They're appealing a zoning appeals board decision that lets helicopters and ambulances serve the new hospital, and allows a new building to be taller than the county's zoning ordinance permits.

Hongell thinks the location isn't appropriate for a hospital and that putting one there would be a "violation of the law," he said. He also said the hospital or the county have not yet addressed the residents' concerns about zoning.

"We have to protect our residential community," Hongell said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II wrote Thursday on a forums site run by The Herald-Mail that just two of the five appellants were continuing the fight against the hospital. He said by phone Friday, however, that his information could have been wrong.

Hongell said Thursday night the residents weren't considering dropping the appeal.

"There's no plans to drop the appeal," Hongell said. "Why would we drop the appeal? There is no reason to. No one's addressed our concerns."

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