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Latest hospital appeal should be group's last

April 28, 2006

Enough is enough.

Wednesday's decision by the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals to deny an appeal of the site plan approval for a new hospital at Robinwood should be the last chapter in a citizen group's quest to stop the project.

Yes, the group had a right under the law to appeal such decisions, but at some point this group's members must consider the needs of the entire community.

If more appeals significantly delay construction of a new Washington County Hospital, two things will happen.

The first is that construction costs will certainly increase, in large part because the price of building materials is going up. Hurricane season is beginning again and if there is significant storm damage anywhere in the U.S., steel and other materials will go even higher.

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The second undesirable outcome will be that the Washington County Health System will be forced to spend more money maintaining the existing facility - money that will be lost when the move eventually takes place.

To attract the best physicians, Washington County needs a modern, state-of-the-art hospital. Siting such a hospital near the existing Robinwood Medical Center will save doctors time and allow them to spend more of it with their patients.

The concerns of the residents who have appealed have been given a fair hearing in a number of forums, including one-on-one meetings with hospital officials.

The Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals are citizen boards set up under the law to make land-use decisions. Sometimes, those who appeal lose.

They could continue the appeals process, but to what end? The health system is committed to the site and has spent millions of dollars for preliminary engineering and architectural work.

At this point, the project cannot be stopped, only delayed, with the cost of any additional delay being borne by community residents.

All of that said, many of the concerns raised by the citizen group are legitimate. By the time the new hospital is open, roads must be upgraded and water and sewer lines must be extended.

Those tasks are not the responsibility of the health system, but of local government. That's where citizens should be applying pressure.

It is now time for citizens, elected officials and business leaders to come together on the new hospital, just as they did on the University System of Maryland campus in downtown Hagerstown.

The USM project sparked as much or more disagreement about the best site as the hospital proposal has. But when the decision was made, everyone closed ranks and helped to get the job done.

For those who care about the good of the community, it is now time to end the appeals and work together to see that the bad things envisioned by the citizens group don't come to pass.

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