Court decision clears way for Suburban Hospital expansion -- Gazette.Net



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This story was corrected on Sept. 17, 2013. An explanation follows.

Suburban Hospital’s controversial expansion plans now have the green light thanks to a Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision to uphold a prior court ruling to allow them to go forward.

The $230 million expansion would tear down 10 hospital-owned houses and replace them with a parking garage and a 235,597-square-foot, four-story addition to the hospital, as well as another 1,280 new parking lot spaces, according to a hospital staff report.

In 2011, the Huntington Terrace Citizens’ Association’s attempt to stop the hospital’s expansion was denied by the Maryland Circuit Court. The association then took its case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in October 2011, said Allan Gold, the association president.

The association plans on reviewing the court decision, which was delivered Sept. 10, with its counsel and consulting with members of the community to determine its next steps, Gold wrote in an email to The Gazette Monday.

In April of this year, the county planning board approved Suburban’s preliminary and site plans for the expansion, with the condition that the board would revisit the plans if any significant changes were made to them as a result of litigation that was pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals at the time.

Now that the legal issues are settled, work can begin, said Ronna Borenstein-Levy, a hospital spokeswoman,

“Right now we’re looking forward to breaking ground in late 2014,” Borenstein-Levy said. “We’re hoping that this will be the end of litigation.”

The hospital’s next steps are to prepare detailed plans in order to obtain construction permits. If all goes according to plan, the new parking garage will be ready for use in 2017 and the building will be open for patient use in the fall of 2019.

“We’ve been working on this project for a long time. It’s very important for our community and our patients,” Borenstein-Levy said. “We are excited that we can move ahead.”

The concerns of the citizens’ association are essentially two-fold: increased noise and the incompatibility of new construction with the rest of the neighborhood.

Opponents have said that the proposed height of a new garage, which is slated to be 35 feet tall, was too tall and did not blend in with the character of the neighborhood.

Others objected to a new entrance on Southwick Street, which will only be accessible by keycard to employees and will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., citing increased traffic.

But the hospital also has its share of supporters of the expansion project, many of whom spoke at April’s meeting and urged the board to allow Suburban to move forward after years of planning. Supporters have said that as the county’s population continues to grow and age, Suburban Hospital’s services will be in greater demand.

Montgomery County became the first county in Maryland to reach a population of 1 million last year, according to the county. Seniors are the fastest growing age group in the county, and that number is expected to increase 65 percent from 2000 to 2020.

Correction: The new employees’ entrance on Southwick Street is separate from the new garage.

ablum@gazette.net