Suburban Hospital got the go-ahead from the Montgomery County Planning Board today for its expansion project, despite arguments from residents in the surrounding neighborhood that the new facilities won’t be compatible with the area’s Master Plan.
The years-long battle between the hospital and the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association is still in court. Today’s approval of Suburban’s preliminary and site plan for the expansion is an important step, but the hospital must wait until the case has cleared Appeals court.
Suburban Hospital says it badly needs the 235,000-square-foot addition. The Huntington Terrace Citizens Association says the expansion, abandonment of Lincoln Street and new garage included in it will lead to more noise and traffic.
The issue is before the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 2011, the group’s attempt to block the expansion was thrown out in Circuit Court.
Norman Knopf, attorney for the Citizens Association, argued the proposed four-story building and 1,125-space garage don’t fit the residential area’s Master Plan, approved 23 years ago.
Barbara Sears, attorney for Suburban Hospital, said Knopf was telling only part of the story. Suburban says the expansion of healthcare is a community service that’s included in the Master Plan. The Board of Appeals and County Council staff have used that justification before to allow the abandonment of Lincoln Street, which Suburban proposes to build over.
“What we have done is the minimal. It’s designed so it can function and it has to function,” Sears said. “We can’t change that footprint. We’ve done everything possible to change it. We can’t go any further.
“I don’t know any other case that’s been through this kind of scrutiny and that’s been through these kind of details,” Sears said.
Sears also showed a house near the hospital that was sold and rebuilt in 2010 by a man who had earlier feared he would not be able to sell it for good value because of the expansion. Sears said the value of the property doubled by 2010, even with the knowledge that Suburban would be building.
Knopf identified four issues the neighborhood had with the expansion: The anticipated increase in noise from HVAC units, an entranceway to the new garage from Southwick Street, the size and location of the garage and the size and location of the portion of the hospital addition that would go behind Southwick Street.
The majority of the Planning Board agreed to include a condition that would require Suburban to keep its noise testing locations on the same side of the street as the hospital. Residents were concerned moving those testing locations across the street would allow for higher noise levels.
Commissioner Amy Presley expressed concern about increased traffic on Smithwick that might come from the closing of Lincoln Street.
Rendering via Suburban Hospital, Site map via Montgomery County Planning Department