Some residents want former hospital site under Hagerstown's control

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner asked the council to discuss the topic at an upcoming work session

January 25, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |

HAGERSTOWN — With the former Washington County Hospital on track for demolition, city residents said Tuesday that they'd like the property under Hagerstown's control.

"It bothers me that this body has taken a sort of hands-off attitude about it," Gordon Bartels of Mulberry Street told the five-member Hagerstown City Council.

Bartels, who was the first of three residents to offer comment on the property during a council meeting Tuesday night, suggested that Hagerstown purchase the property for public use.

"Why can't the city take ownership of that property?" he asked. "I feel the city should insist the vacant property be used to benefit the community."

Those who spoke Tuesday acknowledged a statement made during a Jan. 18 council work session by James Hamill, the president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health, that the building will be demolished.

Bartels suggested that grass be planted on the site after demolition.  He also said that he'd like to see paths through the property.

Janet Bartels of Mulberry Street said she would like to see the city acquire the property for urban agriculture.

Once the building was gone, the large lot could be a source of food for residents if the city farmed it, she said.

While J.W. Brlecic of Cannon Avenue agreed that he'd like to see the lot become a public use, he asked if the city could afford to gain ownership of the property.

Councilman Forrest W. Easton said he questioned Meritus about the value of the property and was not given an answer.

"Can we condemn it and take it?" Brlecic asked.  "What if we rezone it for parks only ... then we can purchase it for a low price?"  

If the city can't afford to buy the property from Meritus, then all the residents saying, "Let's put a park on it," are wasting their time, he said.

Acquiring the property for public use would be expensive, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

Not only would the city have to pay to purchase the property and pay to maintain it, he said the city would forfeit the tax revenue a commercial, industrial or residential use would provide to the general fund.

"It is prime taxable real estate," Metzner said.

The council has not discussed it's position on the future use of the property and has not ruled out any options at this point.

During his comments at the close of the meeting, Metzner asked the council to discuss the topic at an upcoming work session.  At the least, he said the council should address zoning for the site.    

For now, he told residents that just because the council listens, does not mean it necessarily agrees with what it hears.  

He said that includes comments from Sharon Disque, co-chairwoman of a community task force on the hospital site redevelopment, who told the council on Jan. 18 that the task force wants the city to partially finance a reuse study for the property.

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