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Next steps on the hospital

June 17, 2005

Now that the Maryland Health Care Commission has approved the Washington Hospital's Certificate of Need - and its plan to move to Robinwood - it is time for the community to come together to make this project work.

That is essentially what happened with the issue of where to locate the Washington County campus of the University System of Maryland.

There was much disagreement about whether a downtown site was appropriate, but when the decision was made, the community's leaders joined ranks to support it.

On the hospital issue, several issues need resolution.

One of the most important is sewer capacity. The city government has a rule - not required by state law - that allocations cannot be moved from one site to another.

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The reasoning behind the rule is that doing so would make it impossible to redevelop the area that lost its allocation.

However, we believe that it is possible to transfer some or all of what the Robinwood site requires while still leaving some for the redevelopment of the old hospital site.

Then there's the zoning issue. City Attorney John Urner, a land-use law expert, has said that even if the city agreed to annex the site, a zoning hearing would be required.

But members of the previous administration, including Councilman Lewis Metzner, have said that they would not annex and in doing so deprive Robinwood-area residents their right to be heard.

If the council members just elected OK annexation, so be it. If not, there could be a protracted fight over zoning. To prevent that, hospital and local government officials must meet with those likely to object to see what can be worked out.

Some foes of the Robinwood site have told us they fear that the cost of upgrading roads and intersections has been greatly underestimated - and that once the hospital is in place, traffic will be gridlocked, resulting in a call for expensive, taxpayer-financed improvements.

Finding a way to assuage those fears may seem like a small item, but as we saw recently on the issue of renaming Memorial Boulevard, not talking to citizens before acting can complicate a situation that should be simple.

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