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County must follow through with hospital road upgrading

December 09, 2005

The Washington County Health System moved one step closer to building a new hospital at Robinwood Wednesday, as the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) approved necessary variances on a 4-1 vote.

We hope this is the last hurdle and that the county government takes seriously its responsibility to upgrade roads and other nearby infrastructure.

The BZA held hearings on the proposed variances on Nov. 21 and 22, then deliberated on Wednesday night.

At the heart of the matter was a 1991 BZA decision that allowed construction of the Robinwood Medical Center, but seemed to rule out acute-care hospitals that would bring in patients by ambulance and helicopter.

With the exception of BZA member Jan Wetterer, who voted against the new hospital proposal, other BZA members took the stance that because the 1991 ruling did not specifically say that no hospital would ever be allowed on the site, the door was open to one in the future.

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Bert Iseminger, a former county commissioner and BZA member, said that nearby residents should have known that there would be a lot of building in the area, because Robinwood has been designed for such growth since the county's first comprehensive plan was written in the 1970s.

But Iseminger also acknowledged that the county has not kept up in terms of planning and construction of roads. However, he said, the county now has a Capital Improvement Program process that is no longer just a "wish list," but a blueprint that will guarantee roads will be upgraded.

We hope Iseminger's faith is justified and that the commissioners' decision to fast-track this project includes a resolve to see that when the new hospital's doors open, the roads are ready to handle the traffic. This is not an issue of convenience for drivers, but of life and death for those being transported by ambulance.

All but one of the BZA members complimented both health system officials and opponents of the site on their presentations.

BZA member Dave Williams chided both sides for their lack of candor, saying that he could not tell whether the inaccuracies they offered were the result of duplicity or inadequate research.

The one thing all five BZA members agreed on is Washington County's need for a new, state-of-the-art hospital. We could quibble about the fact that the health system took way too long to seek these variances and that the county government stood too long on the sidelines while this project languished.

But what's done is done and the BZA has given approvals that should allow this project to move forward. We hope county government is now ready to apply the same level of commitment and energy to upgrading Robinwood-area roads as it has to the project to extend a runway at Hagers-town Regional Airport.

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