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Standing up to hospital is a virtue

February 11, 2007|by JOE LANE

Three cheers for the courageous citizens who filed the lawsuit to keep the hospital from moving to Robinwood Drive. If you read the hospital's full-page ads in The Herald-Mail, you would think only five people in the county opposed the hospital move to Robinwood. This couldn't be farther from the truth. When this hospital move was announced, dozens of citizens and organizations tried to join this lawsuit. The hospitals well-paid and skillful lawyers successfully eliminated all but a handful of citizens who dotted all their i's and crossed all their t's to ensure their legal "standing" in order to exercise their constitutional rights. If they are successful, they will have saved this county from the biggest planning disaster in the history of the county.

The Robinwood site is, by far, the most expensive site that could have been picked for a new hospital. The choice of this site will require $60 million worth of road improvements in order to ensure expedient ambulance passage once the Robinwood corridor is built out as planned. The hospital shrewdly made a deal with the County Commissioners (two sets ago) that caps the hospital infrastructure contribution at less than $3 million.

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The state has agreed to kick in $6 million for the "Band-Aid" fix (as Mayor Bob Bruchey calls it) of the Edgewood intersection. That leaves $51 million left for the taxpayers of Washington County to cover.

It is wrong to build at Robinwood because the hospital promised, as did the elected officials at the time, that no hospital would ever be built next to the Robinwood medical center. Harold Boyer, a member of the planning commission at that time, wrote a very thorough op-ed attesting to this fact. This is why the lawsuit should ultimately prevail.

Now that the lawsuit has left the county, far away from local politics, the hospital is rightfully afraid they will lose.

They now want the County Commissioners to circumvent the lawsuit under the guise of keeping costs down. The hospital is asking for a change in the zoning through a "zoning text amendment." If the commissioners agree to do this, they will force the taxpayers to cough up more than $50 million in road upgrades.

Aside from the financial burden and the traffic disaster, consider the negative impact this will have on revitalization efforts downtown. How many restaurants and shops will miss the traffic from employees and relatives who work at and visit the hospital? What about all the doctors offices and labs that are near the current hospital? What happens when they leave downtown? On the human side, how will all the handicapped people who currently walk or roll over to the hospital get to Robinwood? What about the poor who can't afford a $6 one way taxi ride?

Why does the hospital insist on putting the hospital at the most expensive site? Renovating the current facility is still (as of Jan. 19, 2007) a far less expensive way to have a state-of-the-art facility. No less than Johns Hopkins did this with its facility in Baltimore.

While trying to figure out why the hospital prefers the most expensive site option, it is worth noting that the Robinwood Medical Center has approval to build two new wings, and suites there sell for more than $1 million each. The food court can easily replace a half dozen downtown restaurants. All this revenue under one roof.

Why are the people who filed a lawsuit the bad guys here? It is the hospital that did not live up to the agreement. It is the hospital that insists on the most expensive site (for taxpayers). The commissioners have now and have always had the power to rezone the hospital into the Robinwood site. The hospital administration, fearful that it might lose the lawsuit, is pushing the commissioners to do this right now. Why wasn't it done long ago? If I were a commissioner, I wouldn't want my fingerprints on this either.

Joe Lane is a Smithsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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