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Homes could be razed for construction

April 03, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Leaning up against a door frame, Gary Williamson ran his hand over his chin as he pointed out his South Cannon Avenue home's refinished antique door, new bathroom and the paint tubs sitting on the wooden floor.

"We're pouring money into this place and they're gonna take it down in a few years?" he asked as his wife, Irene, took a seat on the narrow wooden steps of their 120-plus-year-old home at 23 S. Cannon Ave.

City of Hagerstown officials, in a March letter from their attorney, asked Washington County Hospital officials to consider building a new health-care facility at their existing location on East Antietam Street.

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To do so, nearby homes and businesses would have to be leveled.

Washington County Hospital officials said Friday that if they accepted the city's offer to condemn buildings by power of eminent domain, they would need the area from the hospital's parking deck on East Antietam Street to the houses on the hospital's side of South Cannon Avenue and from the parking deck to the hospital's side of East Washington Street.

In that area, hospital parking spaces can be found from East Antietam to East Washington streets. Pangborn Hall, connected to the hospital by a bridge, covers much of the corner at the intersection of South Cannon Avenue and East Antietam Street. Four houses, including Williamson's, run to the intersection of South Cannon Avenue and East Washington Street.

In a letter dated March 24 to hospital attorney Jack T. Tranter, David M. Funk, the city's attorney in the matter, said, "The City is willing to close East Antietam Street and to use its eminent domain power to acquire any properties needed to make the existing site suitable for development."

Williamson, 57, who bought the house last year to use for his dental practice, said he just spent $18,000 to install a handicapped-accessible ramp and a handicapped-accessible bathroom for his patients.

"We've spent, literally, our life savings to get to this point, which doesn't look like much, but I'm 30 days away from operation," he said.

"We don't want to move," Irene Williamson said.

Neither do Johanna and John Fouke, who have called 15 S. Cannon Ave. home since 1959 and plan to call it their home for the rest of their lives.

"They're gonna have to take me out feet first," said Johanna Fouke, 73, who said she has osteoarthritis and asthma.

She said two children grew up in the home. She said the 111-year-old house was renovated by her husband, John Fouke, 76, a retired railroad worker who also did maintenance at the hospital.

"They're gonna have a fight on their hands if they try to tear us down," she said.

There was a time when her house was adorned with campaign signs for Mayor William M. Breichner, but Fouke said she'd post signs campaigning for his removal from office if he keeps pushing the hospital issue.

"He's not going to be able to depend on me anymore," she said.

John Fouke asked where the city is getting the money to pay for its campaign to keep the hospital in the city.

The city has retained Funk, a Baltimore lawyer, at $200 an hour, and Hal Cohen of Baltimore, an expert in the field, at $250 an hour, to convince the Maryland Health Care Commission to deny a certificate of need for a planned hospital on Robinwood Drive.

"They've got their priorities mixed up so bad," John Fouke said.

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