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Hospital zoning variances appealed

January 21, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY -

A group of Washington County residents has appealed two zoning variances that help Washington County Health System build a new hospital on Robinwood Drive.

Through an attorney, the group Citizens for Responsible Health Care filed its petitions in Washington County Circuit Court on Thursday.

The petitions appeal two approvals the county's Board of Zoning Appeals gave in December that allowed plans for a new Washington County Hospital to proceed.

J. Michael Nye, the citizens' group's coordinator and spokesman, said the appeal is based on "approximately seven defects" in the zoning approvals. However, he wouldn't name them, citing the advice of the group's attorney, William C. Wantz.

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The plaintiffs may take up to 90 days to outline their arguments in court papers, according to Dennis J. Weaver, Washington County's clerk of the circuit court.

"This is not about the need for an updated hospital, but about affordable health care," Nye said of the appeals during a press conference Friday.

Nye accused Washington County Health System of trying to build an expensive new hospital that wouldn't improve patient care.

James Hamill, the health system's president and chief executive officer, said he has explained why that allegation and others aren't true, but Nye and his group won't listen.

"They just don't want it built at Robinwood," Hamill said.

Last June, the Maryland Health Care Commission approved a certificate of need, which lets the hospital move from East Antietam Street to Robinwood Drive.

The zoning board voted 4-1 on Dec. 7 in favor of two separate requests tied to building a new hospital.

The first request was to waive setback requirements so the new hospital could connect to the existing Robinwood Medical Center.

The second request was to let helicopters and ambulances serve the new hospital and for a building taller than the zoning ordinance allows.

Nye said it could take years for a final ruling on his group's appeals, including stops at Maryland's two highest courts and possibly beyond.

Indefinite stalling appears to be Nye's strategy when he objects to projects, Hamill said.

"This is what he does as a gadfly: Tie them up in court," Hamill said.

Hamill said years of delays would add millions of dollars to the cost of building the hospital.

A 2004 cost estimate of $235 million probably is outdated and a new estimate hasn't been prepared, he said.

Washington County officials are reviewing parts of the hospital's site plans, Hamill said.

The plaintiffs in both appeals are Nye, Ronald L. Horn, Charles B. Hongell, Gary C. Miller, Gordon A. Bartels, Janet E. Bartels, Sally R. Hatch and Robert C. Hatch.

Nye said his group has about 50 members. The eight plaintiffs, all group members, testified during the hearings on the variance requests.

Legal appeals are the only way Hamill and the health system will listen to the group, Nye said.

Hamill said he was disappointed by the appeals because he hoped a meeting he had with Nye on Monday would satisfy him and his group.

Bob Maginnis, The Herald-Mail's Opinion page editor, who organized and moderated the meeting, wrote in a Nov. 30 column that he wanted to "broker a peace" between project opponents and proponents.

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