Attorneys for Takoma Park filed a lawsuit Friday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, seeking to overturn county government agencies' recent refusals to designate the Washington Adventist Hospital's Sanitarium building historic
The suit charges that the county Planning Board and later the County Council exceeded their authority by considering economic matters in their decisions.
Civic groups favor historic status for the 75 year-old structure because they hope that could save it from demolition.
Takoma Park officials also asked that the county Department of Environmental Protection be forbidden from issuing a demolition permit to hospital officials, who contend that the aging, wooden "San" stands in the way of future hospital expansion and would be too costly to renovate. A circuit court hearing on the suit has not been scheduled.
The San's fate is likely to be decided in a flurry of legal actions launched in recent weeks by both the hospital and preservation supporters, after years of local negotiations broke down.
Currently, the demolition permit awaits a decision by DEP officials, who earlier decided not to issue it at least until the planning board ruled on an appeal by the city government, local historic commissions and neighborhood organizations to place the San on Montgomery's historic register.
The board turned down that request Nov. 24, after a majority agreed with board chairman Norman L. Christeller, who said that although the San meets requirements to be considered historic, its continued existence would strain Washington Adventist Hospital resources that otherwise could go into medical care.
Takoma Park's suit charges that the planning board acted "arbitrarily, capriciously and discriminatorily" by considering anything other than the historical significance of the San, which is the first structure built by the Seventh-day Adventists who settled in Takoma Park in 1907.
Christeller could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit. He has said it is the duty of the planning board to consider broader concerns, including the hospital's ability to provide health services to county, residents.
The County Council, at the request of Takoma Park Mayor Sammie A. Abbott, last week considered reviewing the planning board's decision but then dropped the matter, concurring with the panel's concern about the hospital's operation.
Takoma Park officials and local residents said the hospital has not willingly considered alternative uses, such as medical offices, for the San and instead has presented pessimistic architectural analyses while dismissing conceptual suggestions presented by City Council member Lynne Bradley and members of Historic Takoma. They said official historic status would force the hospital to examine alternatives more closely.
Hospital vice president Gerald M. Northam, citing numerous structural inadequacies, said none of the plans seemed feasible. "It's an old building, that's basically it," he said.
The circuit court is also considering a suit brought by the hospital, demanding that the county immediately issue the demolition permit.