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Former BZA chair remembers '91 decision differently

December 16, 2005|by Harold Boyer, Smithsburg

To the editor:

After reading about the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) vote concerning moving the hospital to Robinwood, I feel compelled to correct the record. I understand that the majority of the current BZA felt that when the 1991 decision granting a special exception with conditions approved the Medical Campus, that it was the intention of the previous BZA that an acute-care hospital would eventually be approved for the site.

I was appointed to the BZA and served 11 years, 10 years as chairman. I presided at the 1991 hearing which approved a special exception for the Robinwood Site to allow for the Medical Campus Complex.

I would like to use this opportunity to provide a few observations, recollections and comments about the previous and current application by the hospital for a modification to the conditions of the Special Exception that was granted in AP91-070.

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In 1991, the hospital sought a special exception to establish a "Medical Mall" in the RU Zoning District. At that time it was a non-permitted use. The hospital said that the Medical Mall should be approved because it was to serve the neighborhood, not to be a multi-regional facility. The hospital further stated that no hospital was being proposed, now or in the future, at this site.

Some skeptical BZA members asked the hospital's CEO at the time if he would object to conditions or stipulations to ensure that a future acute-care hospital would not be sought for this site.

Several hospital representatives, including Horace Murphy, president and CEO and Raymond Grahe, vice president of finance, confirmed their agreement to conditions that would eliminate the possibility of future attempts to move a hospital to the site.

As a result, our BZA voted 3-2 to grant the special exception with the conditions/stipulations contained in the AP91-070 decision. At the time, we understood that the remainder of the land was to have a principal permitted use of out-patient care services and residential facilities for progressive, non acute, extended care.

The hospital had further stated that because of the expensive infrastructure costs, its long-term plans were to sell remaining space to other hospital affiliated organizations to provide similar or comparable services to the surrounding neighborhood, as described in the '91 decision, as defined in "Subsequent Phases."

These phases documented a 50-year period providing for a secondary campus permitting only ambulatory-health services, specialty-care facilities, health education, and non-acute facilities oriented to the aging population.

For hospital to now make the claim that it "never agreed not to attempt to move the hospital to the Robinwood site" or to suggest that it always planned to do this and the '91 decision only required filing for a modification to the granted special exception, is simply not true.

An unbiased reading of the 1991 decision clearly demonstrates that at that time the BZA was concerned that there might be a future attempt to expand the Medical Campus to include a full-service, acute- care hospital, which we wanted to avoid.

Had that been the hospital's position at that time, our close vote most likely would have gone the other way and the hospital's original request would not have approved.

Consequently, the BZA felt that the conditions imposed in the 1991 final decision were deemed sufficient to prevent a future acute-care facility at the Robinwood site.

Before current BZA members voted, theey were made fully aware of our policy position regarding the acute-care hospital at Robinwood.

But they chose, for reasons known only to them, to ignore this and incorrectly claim that we had always intended to approve an acute care hospital at Robinwood and therefore they had no choice but to approve it.

In my view, the BZA acted in an irresponsible manner for purely partisan political purposes, at the expense of those residents who live in the residential community of Robinwood and the safety of those students who attend school there.

Harold Boyer, Smithsburg

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