Residents brainstorm ideas for possible use of former hospital site
Sean Davis, with Morris & Ritchie Associates, talks about the former Washington County Hospital site to about 50 people gathered at a public meeting Thursday night. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer / July 19, 2012)
About 50 people, including concerned residents, property owners and officials from the city, county and state, attended the meeting in the fellowship hall of the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.
Independent consultants have been working with officials of Meritus Health Inc. and Hagerstown Neighborhood Partnership for the past four months to examine the greater 25-acre tract of land surrounding the former hospital on East Antietam Street, and how it could be reused to promote growth in an “eastern gateway” of the city.
Sean Davis, a consultant with Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc., presented attendees with information about the site, such as existing site plans, zoning and overall topography, before fellow consultant Joseph M. Cronyn of Lipman Frizzell & Mitchell LLC discussed preliminary market analysis that could affect redevelopment efforts.
“The goal tonight was to present that and to get additional feedback, and we got some great comments on a variety of different uses,” Davis said.
More than a dozen people spoke, offering a variety of ideas and questions about potential new uses for the area. Speakers suggested a long list of new uses, and each one was written down so the consultants could take that information back, process it and use it as they move forward with further analysis and develop a master plan, Davis said.
Suggestions included uses related to a potential new downtown baseball stadium, bringing the Washington County Board of Education into the area, and various other retail, office and homeownership opportunities.
One speaker asked the consultants to explore expanding facilities for senior citizens in the city, such as a potential senior center, walking park or an outdoor entertainment facility, while another felt strongly about emphasizing the historic significance of the area, which was part of a less-known, but still significant battle during the Civil War.
Tom Plant, who lives in the Frederick, Md., area and owns property in Hagerstown, asked what the “spark” would be for redevelopment, referencing what has taken place with development in Frederick. The ideas being thrown around were almost irrelevant without that, he said.
“It’s almost like we have the cart before the horse here,” Plant said.
Washington County resident Barbara Hovermill said there was interest in creating a veterans’ home or partnering with an entity such as Johns Hopkins to develop medical technology prior to the former hospital being torn down. She also stressed the importance to promote downtown homeownership.
Kathleen Maher, director of the city’s Planning and Zoning Department, said she was encouraged by the turnout. She said the area being studied by the consultants has not yet been taken into account by city officials working on its comprehensive rezoning package, and she hopes that this study would help create a desirable result for all parties involved.
“It’s good to have a lot of people who are enthusiastic about this and participating,” Maher said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a great product and everyone agrees that ‘yeah, this is the way to go.’”
Joe Ross, Meritus Health president and chief executive officer, said the meeting was a success in that they are hearing the needs and wants of stakeholders in the surrounding community.
“I thought it was an outstanding dialogue; some very creative input,” he said. “In many ways, it felt like it represented the feelings of people here.”
People will be notified of when the next meeting will take place, Davis said, noting there will be several more discussions on the topic.
Near the end of the meeting, one woman in the crowd asked about Meritus’ stake in selling off the property for top-dollar rather than considering the best reuse. Ross replied that the land is a surplus asset for the company and they had no vested development interests, adding that Meritus is looking for the most viable and useful redevelopment for the area.
“We’re not developers,” he said. “We know a whole lot more about your gallbladder than land use.”