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HCA Holds onto Claim against County

Hospital Corporation of America will be allowed to argue at a March trial that its application for rezoning to build its proposed Broadlands Regional Medical Center was unfairly singled out for denial by the county.

The county's request for a summary judgment to dismiss Hospital Corporation of America's (HCA) claim that its equal protection rights had been violated was denied Nov. 13 by Judge Thomas Horne.

HCA spokesman Mark Foust said the claim to a violation of equal protection rights was based on the fact that, between the period of January of 2004 and January of 2007, the county's Board of Supervisors had approved 86 out of 87 special-exception proposals brought before it, with HCA's request being the only one denied. "Why deny only HCA?" he asked. "Why prevent the county from building a hospital it so desperately needs?"

SUPERVISOR STEVE SNOW (R-Dulles) made the motion in August of 2005 to deny the application based on the Planning Commission's recommendation. The commission had cited the traffic and noise that the 164-bed, 24-hour hospital would create, as well as its lack of compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods.

However, in a recent interview, Snow said the biggest reason he opposed the hospital was that it would not be where it was needed, in the Dulles South area, where there is no such facility. "How can anyone in good conscience have two hospitals that are taking care of the people in the northeast of the county?" he asked. "If I live in Dulles South, where's my equal protection?"

The proposed medical center would be located west of Belmont Ridge Road and south of the Dulles Greenway, about four miles from the existing Inova Loudoun Hospital. For more than three years, Inova has been involved in litigation over the legitimacy of the certificate of public need granted to HCA by the commissioner of health, asserting that there is not enough need for another hospital in the area.

Snow said that HCA also owns land near Route 50 and he wondered why it didn't build there instead.

Foust said the company planned to build an outpatient facility there but wanted its main campus in the county's growth center. "You build a hospital near where your patients are," he said.

ATTORNEY MARK LOONEY, who is representing HCA, said the complaint of equal protection violation is one of four claims the company plans to bring to the trial in March. The others are that the board acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in denying the company's rezoning application and then again in adopting a Comprehensive Plan amendment proposed by Inova and that the county's zoning ordinance wrongly categorizes hospitals as special exceptions rather than by-right developments that would not require a major approval process.

Attorney Bruce Blanchard, who is representing the county, said his team had filed for a summary judgment against the claim of equal protection violation in order to save time and money. He said the claim was not valid because the developments that HCA said were similar to its own but had been treated differently were in fact dissimilar from the proposed hospital. One, he said, was Clyde's Restaurant, which he noted has a footprint of 26,804 square feet, as opposed to the hospital, which would total more than 800,000 square feet. "That's just one," he said. "All of them have, I think, significant differences, as well."

Blanchard said he thought the board's decision on the hospital was "well-rounded" and took into account the best interest of the county as a whole and what homebuyers in the adjacent neighborhoods had a right to expect.

However, said Blanchard, "there's a difficult standard for summary judgment in Virginia."