Thursday, August 28, 2008

Washington Adventist plans clear some hurdles, await hearings - Gazette

Hospital officials moving through county regulatory process for facility in Calverton/White Oak

by Amber Parcher | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Plans for the Washington Adventist Hospital's relocation from its current site in Takoma Park to the Calverton/White Oak area near Route 29 are moving along, according to hospital officials.

Last week, the county hearing examiner recommended approval for the hospital's special exception for zoning to build new emergency, acute care, ambulatory and medical office buildings on 48 acres off Plum Orchard Drive and Cherry Hill Road.

The next step, said Geoffrey Morgan, the vice president of expanded affairs and full-time project coordinator, is to wait for similar approval from the county Board of Appeals in September. Once that is approved, the hospital will schedule a public hearing with the Planning Board to review site plans.

"The majority of the work is behind us now," Morgan said.

The move has been in the planning stages since 2005, when hospital officials had decided the 14-acre Takoma Park site the hospital had occupied for nearly 100 years was not large enough for expansion.

The hospital has been wading through special exception approvals because the proposed new site is part of the Westfarm Technology Park and is zoned for light industrial use.

After all the approvals on the county level are obtained, the hospital will seek state regulatory approval for building permits, Morgan said. In the meantime it is focusing on design concepts and land use, said its president, Jere Stocks.

Preliminary plans include a core hospital, a connected ambulatory-care building for outpatients, two medical office buildings on the north and south sides of the property, two parking structures and 260,000 square feet of medical office space, Stocks said.

One less perfunctory feature will be a nondenominational faith center and healing garden along a 4-acre lake in the back of the property, Stocks said. The faith center is an important part of the campus, he said.

"There's a whole certain spiritual element to healing," Stocks said. "Mind, body, spirit health is very important in this campus."

Stocks added there will be conference facilities within the faith center for general community use.

The western side of the hospital will open to a view of the lake and the east and front side of the campus will have beautifying landscaping and water features, especially near the cancer center, Stocks said.

Plans for the remaining site at Takoma Park are still being discussed, Stocks said. Hospital officials have been working with Takoma Park residents for the past year to make sure there will still be adequate health care in the area.

In March, the Takoma Park City Council created a land-use committee to advise the city on how to use the land, but the committee hasn't taken any action yet, said Takoma Park City Manager Barbara Burns Matthews.

Stocks declined to say what ideas he was considering, but said the final concepts he announces in the fall will provide "very robust" service to Takoma Park.

"This truly is a way for us to expand health care," he said. "A combination of those two facilities will strengthen the health care safety net."

Stuart Rochester, chairman of the Fairland Master Plan and a community activist, said the Calverton/White Oak community has been meeting regularly with the hospital for several years.

He said the hospital is part of a larger movement of development activity up the Route 29 corridor, with construction at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in White Oak and a proposed biotechnology center in the same area.

"This augers very well for the future of eastern county, which was kind of a stepchild for many years," he said.

Other hospital moves across the county haven't affected Washington Adventist's plans, Stocks said, adding he's turned off his peripheral vision to Holy Cross Hospital's expansion plans.

Holy Cross announced earlier this month it would be opening two health care clinics in Wheaton and Gaithersburg and a new hospital in Germantown, sparking concerns with Washington Adventist's parent company, Adventist HealthCare, it is encroaching on more of its territory at Shady Grove Adventist in Rockville.

Stocks said he's focusing solely on his hospital's vision of having an expanded coverage area.

"We're getting closer and closer to the dream of having a relocated hospital," he said.

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