The Riverdale Town Council's decision last week to sponsor a $30 million bond for Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park has enraged Takoma Park officials, who charge Riverdale with intrusion and the hospital with betraying the community's trust.
Takoma Park officials feel that the decision, the latest twist in a longstanding dispute between neighborhood groups and hospital, in effect strips them of the only control they had over the tax-exempt hospital.
Riverdale Mayor Guy Tiberio said the council arranged the bond to help the hospital out of a financial crisis, and that the money will not be spent for any projects that Takoma Park groups oppose.
Takoma Park Mayor Sammie A. Abbott has asked the state attorney general's office to block the issuance of the bonds.
"The issuance of these bonds by the Town of Riverdale constitutes an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of our city," Abbott wrote in a letter to Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs. Abbott warned that Riverdale's action "invites jurisdictional warfare . . . ."
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said state officials must review Abbott's charges before considering any action.
Although the hospital is within the boundaries of Takoma Park, Tiberio said that Riverdale officials believe it is appropriate to aid the hospital since it provides services to residents of their town.
Hospital officials defend their decision to ask Riverdale to back the bond issue, noting that the hospital serves a much larger area that just Takoma Park, and they say the decision was based on sound business practices.
"Riverdale did not put any preconditions as the City of Takoma Park might have," said Gerald M. Northam, a Washington Adventist Hospital vice president. "Where would you go to get a loan?"
But Takoma Park officials see things differently. They say the move undermines years of negotiation between community groups and hospital officials. Most recently those talks have centered on construction plans for a parking garage and an office building, which the hospital would own but would rent to doctors in private practice, and on the fate of the hospital's sanitarium building.
City preservationists and officials want the hospital to save the columned facade of the building, an early 1900s structure that was the original hospital building. The hospital wants it razed.
Takoma Park residents argued that the demolition of the building would change the character of the residential neighborhood. They also contend that the proposed doctors' offices would create traffic problems.
The hospital has abandoned plans for the parking garage, but in August it won a variance from the Montgomery County Board of Zoning Appeals to construct the doctors' building. Takoma Park officials say the plans approved by the county differed from those negotiated with the community, however, and that the sanitarium building is missing from the approved drawings.
Takoma Park, which has no zoning authority, previously has used its ability to obtain low-interest development bonds for the hospital as its prime bargaining tool.
For example, in 1981, Takoma Park arranged a $4 million bond for the hospital and obtained assurances that the sanitarium would not be destroyed. Hospital officials said then that there were "no plans in the near future" for its demolition, according to council member Carl Iddings. But the hospital has had approval from the county to demolish the building since 1978.
Takoma Park officials first learned about the latest turn of events from a newspaper story. They immediately contacted Riverdale's mayor and council and challenged their action.
"We said, 'More than glad. Name your time, name your place and bring your army,' " said Tiberio, the Riverdale mayor. Iddings and fellow council member Louis D'Ovidio appeared at a special Riverdale council work session Sept. 2 to voice the city's concern about the construction plans.
A group of Takoma Park residents also asked the Riverdale council, at its Sept. 7 meeting, to postpone its decision on the bonds. The council approved the financing project the same night.
"It's apparent that the City of Takoma Park was putting a lot of conditions against the bond, even though it was only going to be used to pay off a debt," Tiberio said. He said Riverdale town attorney Robert W. Shook confirmed that previous loans for the hospital are due in October.
None of the money will go toward financing the contested doctors' building, Tiberio said. Most of the money -- $26 million -- is slated to go toward refinancing the hospital's debt, and up to $4 million is earmarked for interior renovations already under way, he said.