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Land grab is considered to keep hospital in city

July 09, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

One of three proposed sites for a relocated Washington County Hospital is Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park, but Hagerstown's mayor said Monday he is hoping a possible city offer to use its power to forcibly take land will result in the hospital staying within city limits.

"I think the hospital committees need to know the city will step forward if need be," Hagerstown Mayor William N. Breichner said.

Breichner wants the Hagerstown City Council to sign a resolution offering to use the city's eminent domain power to forcibly take land to help the hospital move, if it chooses the city site.

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The council is scheduled to discuss the resolution at 4:45 p.m. today during its regular meeting.

A majority of City Council members have said they would support the resolution.

The 450-acre Allegheny Energy park is south of Hagerstown off Interstate 70. It was previously considered a possible site for the University of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

Despite its attempts, Allegheny Energy has not drawn other businesses to the technology park, which opened in 1988, spokesman Guy Fletcher said.

Washington County Health System officials confirmed the search committee assigned to find a new hospital location has narrowed the search to three sites but they will not identify them. The system is the hospital's parent company.

Three anonymous sources said the Allegheny Energy site is one of the three sites.

The search committee has not recommended a site to the Washington County Health System.

Breichner and other city officials said one of the three sites is in the city, but they would not identify where.

Building a hospital at the city site would not affect any schools or churches, Breichner said. He would not state what properties or property types would be affected, he said.

Under eminent domain, a public agency takes land needed for a public project and pays the owner fair market value for the property. The owner can contest the attempt and take the matter to court.

The city has not used its eminent domain power for at least 45 years and may have never used it, Breichner said.

But James P. Hamill, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System, said the possible city offer doesn't really make the city site more attractive.

Instead, he said, it would be "virtually impossible" for the search committee to consider the site the city recommends unless the city also offers to use its eminent domain power.

If the hospital is to be built in an urban setting, the system will want at least 13 acres of property, Hamill said. If it is proposed for undeveloped land, the system would want about 65 acres, he said.

Hagerstown Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said she would not normally support the city using its eminent domain power but will make an exception in this case because keeping the hospital within the city limits is important.

Hagerstown Councilmen N. Linn Hendershot and Kristin B. Aleshire said they also support the city using eminent domain in this situation.

The resolution states in part, "The mayor and council wish to take appropriate measures to protect the hospital with the ability to select a city location that will strengthen the city's vitality and serve the health care needs of the citizens.

"Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Mayor and Council will utilize the City's power of eminent domain for the purpose of facilitating the acquisition of property to serve as the site of a new hospital, at a location that will further the mayor and council's goals for community and downtown revitalization."

Hamill announced in November that the system was considering building a new hospital.

After a preferred site is selected, the system can get a better handle on the estimated cost and determine whether it can afford a new hospital, Hamill said.

A decision on whether the system can afford a new hospital won't occur until next summer, Hamill said.

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