Variances sought for new hospital

November 22, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


Washington County Health System presented its case Monday night for zoning variances that would help it build a hospital next to Robinwood Medical Center.

During a hearing before the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals, experts in traffic, engineering, health care, planning and land values testified about the worth and benefits of the new building and site.

The zoning board didn't make a decision Monday. Chairman Clint Wiley said the board will meet to make a decision Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Washington County Commissioners' meeting room. The board will issue a written decision shortly after that, he said.


After hours of pro-hospital testimony Monday, the zoning hearing is scheduled to continue today at 7 p.m., giving project opponents a chance to speak.

By 9:30 p.m. - 2 1/2 hours into Monday's hearing - Michael J. Schaefer, a Hagerstown attorney for the applicants, had called five of seven planned witnesses.

Wiley said in a phone interview at about 11 p.m., after the hearing was over, that all seven witnesses for the applicant testified, along with a few people from the audience who support the project.

The zoning variances, if granted, would waive setback and height requirements for a new hospital building. They also would let the hospital receive helicopters and ambulances transporting patients.

The height waiver would allow a five-story, 80-foot-high building, surpassing the 35-foot height restriction.

Washington County Health System is proposing a 500,000-square-foot hospital on Robinwood Drive, at a cost of about $230 million.

Health System officials have said the current hospital on East Antietam Street is impractical to renovate.

"There's virtually no room to grow at the current hospital," Raymond A. Grahe, the Health System's vice president of finance, testified Monday.

Grahe said the current hospital is serving many more people than it was designed to handle.

Most of the five witnesses had testified before the zoning board in 1991, when Robinwood Medical Center was being considered. Responding to questioning by Schaefer, each of those witnesses said there was no promise 14 years ago that a hospital wouldn't eventually be built there.

Engineer Fred Frederick said the 105-acre site was thought to be good for its geography and buffer, among other features.

"It was planned as a campus," he said.

James Randall, a real estate appraiser in Hagerstown, testified that land values near Robinwood Medical Center have risen, but the center's affect was unclear.

So, he compared property sales in a neighborhood around Washington County Hospital to another neighborhood.

In 2004, the average sale price was about $94,000 near the hospital and about $84,000 in the other neighborhood, between North Potomac Street and Cannon Avenue, north of Franklin Street.

This year, the average sale price was about $138,000 in the hospital neighborhood and about $131,000 in the other neighborhood, Randall said.

Wes Guckert of The Traffic Group in Baltimore said traffic improvements planned at 10 intersections at or near the hospital site are "above and beyond what would be needed for the hospital, clearly."

Asked if the hospital would be a detriment next to the medical center, Guckert said the opposite would be true. The convenience of the facilities being side by side would cut vehicle trips, pollution and time, he said.

If You Go

What: Part 2 of hearing on zoning variance requests for proposed Washington County Hospital next to Robinwood Medical Center

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: Washington County Courthouse, Courtroom 1, West Washington Street, Hagerstown

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