Forget also that the Hagerstown City Council has said that annexation of the new hospital site, crucial to getting city utility service, won't happen until the zoning issue is settled.
But let's assume that Hamill is right and that the CON can be approved without the zoning in place. There's still a major problem no one has talked much about - the sewer issue.
In his letter to the coalition, Hamill addresses this, saying that "water and sewer availability will be a concern for the Board of Zoning Appeals. Without it, a zoning request would likely be denied."
Hamill said that while the city has agreed to support the move if the CON is approved, "it has not agreed to provide water and sewer capacity yet."
Hamill said that when the CON is approved, hospital officials "expect the city will honor its word to support the move to Robinwood and approve a water and sewer agreement so that we can move forward."
Hamill's letter assumes that providing water and sewer is a matter of choice for the city. But there's a possibility that on the sewer issue, the city may not have the capacity the hospital needs.
Dave Shindle, head of Hagerstown's Water and Sewer Department, expressed doubts during a November 2003 preliminary consultation that there would be sufficient sewer capacity available.
In a later interview, Shindle told me that transferring the hospital's allocation for its present location to Robinwood isn't an option because once granted, the allocation stays with the property.
But, since we're doing a lot of assuming today, let's assume that state officials would allow such a transfer. What's not clear is whether state officials will allow Hagerstown enough additional capacity even with a transfer.
In May, Shindle said that based on how the state calculates the formula, the city would have no reserve capacity in 2004. And any hope that the state would be generous in allowing extra capacity is probably misplaced, given that there have been at least eight recent spills of partially treated sewage from the city's plant into Antietam Creek.
In November, those spills spurred Potomac Riverkeeper, a Rockville, Md.-based environmental group to threaten suit if the situation were not corrected within 60 days. Last month, Mayor William Breichner said that the Riverkeepers' involvement was delaying an agreement between the state on what the city would do and how much the city would be fined.
And so I leave it to readers to answer this question: With an environmental lobby threatening legal action, are publicity-averse state bureaucrats likely to bend the rules so Hagerstown can speed up the hospital project, or are they more apt to require that everyone involved scrupulously follow all of the rules?
Had the hospital applied for zoning back in 2003, all of the needed approvals might have been obtained before the spills became an issue. Waiting, it seems, was not the best strategy.