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Hospital needs to apply for zoning variance now

October 08, 2004

Late last month, the Maryland Health Care Commission responded to the Washington County Hospital Association's application to put a new facility on land next to Robinwood Medical Center.

The commission asked more than 20 questions dealing with the hospital's application, all but one of which were requests for clarification of technical or financial matters

The lone exception was the commission's question about whether the hospital had applied for a zoning variance. As of Thursday morning, county officials confirmed that no application had been filed.

The Herald-Mail supports the hospital's move because it makes sense to put the new building in close proximity with the many doctors' offices and outpatient services provided at Robinwood Medical Center.

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But an application as complex as this one will take more than the normal time to review. We urge hospital officials to submit it as soon as possible.

County officials in January said hospital officials had a preliminary consultation on the project in November 2003. County officials said items that would need to be addressed include the issues of the helicopter pad, an on-site power plant and any incinerator planned for hazardous-waste disposal.

William Sprague, then the county's zoning administrator, said there were so many items to consider that he expected the Board of Zoning Appeals - BZA for short - would need to schedule at least two days of hearings.

Then as if the issue weren't already complicated enough, members of the Hagerstown City Council have said they won't consider annexing the property until the county zoning process is complete.

Although the council could craft an annexation agreement to deal with all of these matters without a hearing, Councilmen Lewis Metzner and Kristin Aleshire have said that they won't vote to deny county residents a voice in the proceedings.

In 1991, when the BZA granted the exceptions that allowed construction of the first phase of Robinwood Medical Center, it barred the use of emergency vehicles, airborne or otherwise, in its ruling.

Some of that came out of concern that helicopters and ambulance sirens would disturb students at nearby Eastern Elementary School.

We agree with James Hamill, the hospital's CEO, that there has been a major change in the neighborhood in the past 13 years. The sooner the hospital begins to make that case in a zoning hearing, the sooner the project will begin to move forward.

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