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Hospital appeal bill filed in House

March 16, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Del. John P. Donoghue has filed a bill making it tougher for people to appeal county health-care-related zoning or land-use rulings, but only in Washington County.

The emergency bill, which Donoghue filed Wednesday, would make appellants liable for extra construction and financing costs traced to their challenges. An appellant would be forced to secure a bond covering the extra amount.

Someone appealing a circuit court ruling would have to post an additional $100,000 bond.

Donoghue, D-Washington, and other members of the county's delegation said the bill could apply to a current challenge to zoning variances letting Washington County Hospital move from East Antietam Street to Robinwood Drive.

Five county residents - Gordon A. Bartels, Janet E. Bartels, Sally R. Hatch, Robert C. Hatch and Charles B. Hongell - have appealed variances that the county granted.

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After the county's approval was affirmed in Washington County Circuit Court, the residents appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Their attorney, William C. Wantz, said the case is scheduled to be tried in June.

If they lose in the Court of Special Appeals, the residents could appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, has pressured the residents - through public statements and newspaper ads - to drop their case, citing mounting expenses caused by the delay.

The Health System also is seeking an amendment to the county's zoning ordinance.

Last week, when Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, described the proposed bill, he said lawmakers were trying to help move the project along. The Health System requested the bill, he said.

Donoghue was in charge of filing the bill. The version he filed Wednesday added language limiting the bill's requirements to Washington County.

Because the bill was filed late, it needed two-thirds approval by the House - which it received Wednesday - to be introduced.

Wantz said he doesn't think the bill will pass, but if it does, it probably will be set aside as unconstitutional.

"I think the hospital's full frontal assault on these five individuals has strengthened their resolve," he said.

James Hamill, the president and CEO of Washington County Health System, said through a spokeswoman last week that he wouldn't comment until the bill was filed.

Hamill wasn't available for comment Thursday.

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