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Hospital project finally headed to zoning board

October 21, 2005

On the eve of the Washington County Hospital's long-awaited bid for a zoning exception for its proposed Robinwood site, one top hospital official spent more than two hours explaining the project and answering citizens' questions.

Did Washington County Health System CEO James Hamill's words convince any of those who worry about the new facility's cost and whether roads will be adequate to handle back-and-forth traffic?

It's difficult to say. But Hamill did make a convincing case on the need for a new hospital, demonstrating with projected floor plans that the present hospital is poorly laid out for the modern practice of medicine.

The old hospital's semi-private rooms are also too small for modern hospital beds and cannot accommodate much of today's medical equipment.

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But hospital officials will have to do more than convince the public that a new hospital is needed and Robinwood is the right place for it.

They will also have to convince the county's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to modify a special exception granted in 1991 to allow the construction of the Robinwood Medical Center.

In its ruling, the BZA placed two conditions that, if not changed, would make siting of an acute-care hospital there difficult. The first prohibited landing facilities for helicopters and "regular use of medical transport vehicles in emergency status ..."

The second said that the 35-foot height restriction on buildings would remain.

In its conclusion, the ruling talked about things that might be developed there over the next 50 years. One of the possibilities listed was "non-acute facilities oriented to the aged and disabled populations."

Hamill said Wednesday that the Maryland State Police now use a helicopter that is among the quietest made and that most ambulance transports are patient transfers from one facility to another rather than emergency cases.

Much is riding on the outcome of this zoning hearing. The new hospital plans have already been altered to deal with an update of Maryland's building code and the cost of building materials has increased due to Hurricane Katrina.

What concerns hospital officials most, however, is the possibility that a protracted zoning fight would add millions more to the cost of the facility. We urge citizens who would object to the Robinwood site to carefully consider the consequences of a long delay for this project.

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