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Word games won't avert a disaster

April 01, 2007|By JOE LANE

In this article I will respond to several accusations by Washington County Commissioner Kristin Alshire as to the accuracy of my facts in the ongoing hospital debate.

I will quote Mr. Alshire and then respond. He writes, "Several of the more important errors in Mr. Lane's letter include the fact that there is no $60 million in identified road projects created by this development, nor does the hospital agreement with the last set of commissioners include a cap. Also incorrect was the fact that no elected body ever promised a hospital would never be built at Robinwood." Alshire is incorrect about the cap. Below is a quote taken from a Jan. 26, 2005, e-mail from hospital CEO Jim Hamill to hospital supporters. "Since the beginning of the year, the hospital has received good news on two fronts: The Washington County Board of Commissioners approved the health systems' contribution of $1.7 million for road upgrades in the Robinwood area "

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This means the hospital is only required to contribute $1.7 million toward the $60 million needed for the build-out of Robinwood. I guess a lawyer would argue that this is technically not a cap, but the effect is the same. I would expect more than a semantic argument from Alshire.

When I wrote that the hospital and commissioners "promised no hospital would ever be built at Robinwood," I understood that technically, a government can't "promise" anything, but it was the clear understanding and intention of those involved in the original Robinwood decision that no hospital would ever be built at Robinwood.

The hospital may have had its fingers crossed, but this does not change the facts.

Alshire was correct on one point, and that is Harold Boyer was the Chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) at the time and not on the Planning Commission as I wrote. I apologized to Boyer when I saw him last week and I suggest that Alshire speak with him about the intent of the Robinwood agreement.

Alshire writes that "there is no $60 million in identified road projects." The key word he uses, but I do not, is "identified" road projects. This is classic developer doublespeak. Developers (in this case the hospital) regularly deny the obvious need for infrastructure improvements if they will be required to pay for them.

When Alshire uses "identified" he accepts the developers' definition of what is required. Developers in concert with our county planning department have never accurately "identified" road needs caused by development. This is why Robinwood is a mess now and getting worse. They don't "identify" school needs accurately either. This is why our schools are overcrowded. A fully built-out Robinwood corridor, including a hospital, will require the following road upgrades.

All have been discussed by planning officials, but many were never "identified," and cost estimates are from these planners and newspaper articles.

They are as follows: Edgewood/Dual Highway ($20 million), Eastern Boulevard/Dual Highway ($10 million), Mount Aetna Road/Dual Highway/ ($8 million), Robinwood western bypass ($10 million), Robinwood east bypass, ($15 million, but botched planning will make this even more expensive than originally projected), Robinwood to Eastern Boulevard connector including a bridge (at least $20 million) and many smaller intersections whose cost will probably add a few more million (my estimate).

The total of the costs I have identified is $83 million, so my $60 million number was actually quite conservative. While not responsible for all these costs, the hospital's share is certainly closer to $60 million than to $1.7 million.

While I respect Mr. Alshire's attempt to set the record straight in the hospital debate, the fact still remains that a hospital move to Robinwood would be a planning disaster that will continue to unnecessarily cost the taxpayers of this county tens of millions of dollars and further degrade our quality of life.

Furthermore, it will be a body blow to the revitalization efforts downtown. The Robinwood site is still, by far, the most expensive site to place a new hospital. No matter what type of lawyerly linguistic gymnastics Alshire chooses to employ, those who were there at the time know what happened. A promise was made. It should be kept.

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

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