Hospital Corporation of America yesterday became the second for-profit hospital chain seeking permission to build a major hospital in Reston.

The Nashville-based firm announced it will ask Virginia officials for authority to place its proposed Fairfax County facility there rather than the Fair Oaks Mall area west of Fairfax City.

The firm's application for a $36 million, 226-bed hospital may face an uphill battle because its Reston site is adjacent to one chosen by Humana Inc., whose proposal for a 200-bed hospital was rejected last year by Virginia Health Commissioner James B. Kenley. Humana is appealing that decision.

"This change is indicated by our review of such factors as projected population growth; Fairfax County's comprehensive plans for development; and the comparative maturity of the transportation system in and around Reston," said John G. Anderson, HCA's manager for facilities planning.

In rejecting Humana's application, Kenley concluded that there is no need for any additional hospitals in the Reston area and that there are too many hospital beds in the entire Northern Virginia region.

Reston business and civic organizations strongly disagreed with Kenley's conclusion and lobbied intensely to get HCA to consider their community.

Democratic Supervisor Martha V. Pennino, who represents the area, said yesterday, "I'm delighted. I think the possibility of Kenley looking more favorably on their HCA's application does exist." Pennino said recent studies show that a hospital is needed in the area.

HCA spokesman Milt Capps also noted that his group, unlike Humana, is offering to close two other Northern Virginia medical facilities -- Circle Terrace Hospital in Alexandria and Dominion Psychiatric Treatment Center at Seven Corners -- in exchange for permission to build the new one.

Last month, Kenley rejected Fairfax Hospital Association's offer to close Commonwealth Hospital in Fairfax City in exchange for permission to open a hospital in the Fair Oaks area. Kenley said he did not find that the benefit of the move would outweigh the cost of a new facility.

The Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia is tentatively scheduled to hold a hearing on the latest Reston proposal May 23. The group will forward a recommendation on to Kenley, whose decision is expected by July 11.