Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Adventist begins county planning process for new hospital

Company asks for permission to consolidate land and transfer unused density for site in White Oak⁄Calverton

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Adventist HealthCare has taken the first steps to build a new Washington Adventist Hospital in eastern Montgomery County, applying to consolidate parcels and transfer unused density from nearby land in preparation for a site plan.

In the filings, Adventist HealthCare is seeking amendments for properties in the Westfarm Technology Park and Orchard Center Retail Center in the White Oak⁄Calverton area, including:

*Consolidating the property it purchased in April for $11 million into one 48.8-acre parcel off Plum Orchard Drive and Cherry Hill Road;

*Reallocating unused density from subdivisions within the original property located at Route 29 and Cherry Hill Road to the hospital land;

*Extending Adequate Public Facilities approvals that had been approved for the pieces of the property that Adventist HealthCare purchased long enough to get a building permit.

The five adjacent parcels Adventist HealthCare purchased — each in the 10- to 15-acre range — had been part of a much larger tract. That land was subdivided for the Westfarm Technology Park and the Orchard Center Retail Center in the 1980s and 1990s.

In order to build a new hospital on 23 acres within the 48.8-acres it purchased, the parcels would have to be combined, said Geoffrey Morgan, vice president of expanded access with the Rockville-based Adventist HealthCare, who hopes to file the site plan this year.

‘‘When you develop [the land], you can’t build structures over property lines,” Morgan said Friday.

One of the parcels is almost entirely consumed by a stormwater retention pond Morgan said would remain undisturbed. Other parcels have wetlands and stream valley buffers that must be avoided, he said. By combining the parcels, the property lines are eliminated, making it possible to site the new hospital within the buildable portion of the tract.

In earlier subdivisions, density had been transferred from the original property to other projects, such as the Orchard Shopping Center off Cherry Hill Road.

‘‘At the end of their project, they had unused density ... righted to them through the zoning process,” Morgan said. ‘‘We want to transfer the unused density to its origin ... which is what we purchased.”

And while Adventist HealthCare is seeking to increase buildable density on the property it purchased, its plans say ‘‘no net change occurs in the overall total density among the plans.”

As part of the process for approving past subdivisions, Adequate Public Facilities approvals also were granted and Adventist HealthCare wants those approvals, which have expiration dates, to carry over to the consolidated property through 2013.

An Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance is a planning tool intended to slow the pace of development or delay it until the appropriate infrastructure is in place or planned to handle development.

In its amendments, William Kominers of the Bethesda-based law firm Holland & Knight LLP, which is representing Adventist HealthCare in the filings, argues ‘‘[p]ublic improvement obligations called for by the original preliminary plan approval have all been satisfied.”

Morgan said Tuesday that the timing of the filings had nothing to do with getting approvals extended before a County Council that appears to favor controls on growth has a chance to act on its growth policy.

Last week, the County Council met with Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson to discuss changes to the county’s annual growth policy, which is reviewed by the council every two years and serves as a guideline for establishing how the county grows, what development is allowed and who pays for it.

Last year, Council President Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton proposed a temporary moratorium in certain parts of the county in an effort to alleviate growth problems. Although the proposal failed, it gave council members the chance to look at growth and attempts to develop sustainable communities.

Some council members and community activists have said under the county’s earlier growth policies, development has outpaced the goods and services, such as adequate roads and schools, needed to support the growth.

Morgan said the filings regarding Adequate Public Facilities were ‘‘disconnected from [the County Council’s discussion] and procedurally based.” He said developing a health care campus is a fairly lengthy process — he expects four or five years to complete construction — and in that time, Adequate Public Facilities approvals on some parcels will expire. One parcel’s approval will expire next month, he said.

‘‘We want to take a step back, extend the inherent approvals and go through a deliberate process ... to develop an appropriate health care campus,” Morgan said.

Officials with the Montgomery County Planning Board have just received the documents and have not had time to review them or render an opinion on the requests, said Valerie Berton, a spokeswoman for the board.

In addition to these filings, the hospital also must file a declaration called a Certificate of Need with the Maryland Health Care Commission in order to move a health care facility. The commission then analyzes the request to ensure that the move is justified.

Morgan said for now, Adventist HealthCare is working through the land-use issues first and then will focus on issues related to the Certificate of Need.

The land-use filings follow a June 14 meeting among hospital officials, east county residents, landowners and civic leaders to discuss the amendments. A public hearing will be held later this year, according to Lydia Parris, a spokeswoman for Washington Adventist Hospital.

Stan Doore, a member of the Calverton Citizens Association and the East County Citizens Advisory Board’s liaison to the hospital project, said he thinks the filings should be approved and planners ‘‘should let the project go ahead.

‘‘The citizens want it, the East County Board wants it and it’s a great facility to have around,” he said. ‘‘I see no reason why it should be held back.”

Adventist HealthCare announced in April that it purchased land for $11 million to relocate Washington Adventist Hospital from its current site in Takoma Park, about six miles away. Hospital officials also are discussing future uses for the Takoma Park campus, including keeping health-care services there.