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City rejects proposal to annex, rezone hospital site

November 11, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council has rejected Washington County Hospital's proposal to have the city annex and rezone its new hospital site on Robinwood Drive.

Mayor William M. Breichner said the City Council went into executive session Tuesday and quickly opposed the proposal, which also called for the city to annex a planned large housing development.

Breichner said the city has maintained that the hospital project needs a zoning change from Washington County first - but the hospital's proposal calls for the city to first annex, then rezone the land.

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"There's no way (the city would) ever give zoning to the hospital. ... They understand that," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Wednesday.

"We're disappointed," said James Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent organization. "We thought we had put a very, very generous proposal in front of the City Council that was a result of six months of (negotiations)."

With the new proposal shot down, the city and the hospital effectively have broken off talks, the two sides said.

The hospital sent its proposal to John Urner, the city's attorney, last week.

An attorney for the Mount Aetna Farms development - a plan for more than 1,400 new homes off Robinwood Drive - cosigned the proposal, linking the housing and hospital plans.

The hospital's package deal totaled about $26 million worth of contributions to the city, the county and the Washington County Board of Education, Hamill said.

He said that in some areas, the package was "substantially more generous" than the $16 million worth of improvements the city had requested.

The proposal says that, if the hospital and the Mount Aetna Farms projects get the city approvals they need, the resulting contributions would include:

· $6.1 million for road improvements in the portion of the city near Robinwood Drive

· $4.5 million in road improvements in the portion of the county near Robinwood Drive

· $4.9 million in city water and sewer improvements

· $10.5 million to help pay for growth in the school system. A new elementary school could be built instead.

Breichner said Hamill's estimate is inflated and the word "contributions" is misleading. He said that much of the money is for improvements needed to accommodate the two projects.

Metzner said that whatever Hamill claimed about the contributions wasn't worth a response. "Mr. Hamill has been misrepresenting the truth to the public for too long," Metzner said.

Breichner and Metzner said they expect the hospital to now ask the county for a zoning change.

The city has scrutinized and criticized the project since the hospital announced in November 2001 that it would move from East Antietam Street to Robinwood Drive in 2006 or 2007. The city objected and tried to fight the move.

The Maryland Health Care Commission is reviewing the hospital's application for a certificate of need. The total cost, including improvements, has been estimated at $233 million.

Six months ago, the city presented a 17-point plan for the hospital to win the city's support for the project. Specifics were added in other letters.

In the proposal it sent Urner last week, the hospital ignored some of the city's terms, agreed to some and amended others.

The two sides agreed that the hospital would provide a new Urgent Care Center within the city limits and that all permits and fees would conform to the city's requirements.

They disagreed about whether annexation or zoning would come first, the top item on both lists.

The hospital's proposal did not address some of the city's requests, such as helping to buy and demolish the Holiday Motel on North Prospect Street to build a parking lot; funding Community Rescue Service; helping to build a new home for Community Free Clinic; helping to fund the Washington County Commission on Aging; and making a payment in lieu of taxes that would start at $350,000 a year and increase with inflation.

Hamill said those items were omitted because the hospital rejected them.

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