The Alexandria City Council approved a $10 million tax-exempt bond issue for Alexandria Hospital yesterday, but it postponed a decision on a 30-year-old controversy between residents and hospital officials.
After four hours of debate, the council unanimously approved the hospital's request for the industrial bonds for general use. The bonds are to be financed through the Voluntary Hospitals of America.
But the pressing question -- whether those bonds, or any other money, could be used to help build a $12 million, four-story hospital addition to house 60 doctors' offices and cancer and outpatient centers -- was left until fall, when a special city study can determine the need for the new offices.
Officials of the hospital on Seminary Road said the addition is essential for the facility's survival. Many residents disagree, and argue that the doctors' offices in the addition would destroy their neighborhood and jam their streets with 2,000 to 3,000 more cars each day.
"There are doctors poised to go elsewhere" if they don't have a nearby office, said A. George Cook, chairman of the Alexandria Health Services Corp., the parent company of the 414-bed hospital.
Given the competition from group health organizations and lower-cost outpatient facilities, the hospital must use the addition to raise revenue and retain doctors, Cook said.
Charles Schwidde, a resident of the area, said that while he is not opposed to the cancer and outpatient centers, he believed that it "was unfair to subject thousands of neighbors to the certainty of commercial intrusion" if it is not necessary for the survival of the hospital.
City Manager Vola Lawson said the study will address that concern and probably will investigate the feasibility of locating the planned offices outside the hospital grounds.
The nonprofit hospital and neighboring Seminary Hill residents have fought since the 1950s on the question of adding for-profit physicians' offices. One nearby resident, Charles E. Beatley, was so outraged 30 years ago that he ran for office. Now, as Beatley -- who went on to serve 15 years as mayor of Alexandria -- gears up to challenge Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) in the 8th Congressional District race, the hospital seems to have its best chance of achieving its goal.
"I'm not convinced they need" the offices, said City Council member Patricia Ticer. "But we are going to find out."
Cook, who earlier told the council they could "roast it, fry it, cook it and boil it" as long as they passed the bond issue and didn't say no to the expansion, said he was hopeful that the study will support the project.
The council also:
*Gave tentative approval for changing some of the commercial zoning near the Braddock Road Metro station to residential in order to preserve the historic Parker-Gray area.
*Approved construction of 30 public housing apartments in Cameron Valley.
*Voted to add $2.1 million to the Community Development Block Grant Program for housing acquisition and/or rehabilitation.