A Virginia state regulator's decision to allow a Nashville-based hospital chain to build Loudoun County's second hospital was "arbitrary and capricious," attorneys for Loudoun Healthcare Inc. argued at a court hearing Friday.

Loudoun Healthcare asked Judge Theodore J. Markow of Richmond Circuit Court to overturn the approval by State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube in February of HCA Corp.'s revised proposal to build a 164-bed medical center in the Broadlands area of eastern Loudoun. Stroube should not have granted HCA's second request because it was nearly identical to its first, which the commissioner rejected in March 2003, said Mark Hedberg, an attorney for Loudoun Healthcare.

"Broadlands One and Broadlands Two are substantially similar," Hedberg said, referring to HCA's two proposals. "Paint and polish do not a new car make."

Tom Hancock, an attorney for the HCA-owned Northern Virginia Community Hospital in Arlington, said Loudoun Healthcare minimized the changes made to the second petition, which downsized the project from its initial plan for a 180-bed facility. The second plan also included a new national program to help poor, uninsured patients pay for health care and added obstetric services.

The hearing was the latest development in an intense struggle over the future of health care in the nation's fastest-growing county, where local officials say health care services have not kept up with population growth.

Loudoun Healthcare, which has run the nonprofit Loudoun Hospital Center for 92 years, contends that Broadlands Regional Medical Center -- set to be built just five miles from its Lansdowne campus -- would cause competition that would drive up health care costs. HCA says the county can support two hospitals.

Hedberg also said Stroube erred in accepting information that might have influenced his decision -- including e-mails to state officials regarding the HCA project -- after the Dec. 19, 2003, closing date of the request process, preventing Loudoun Healthcare from responding.

Among those was an e-mail sent in January by an official of Broadlands Regional Medical Center that urged supporters of the project to express their backing to Stroube, Hedberg said. He said Stroube responded to supporters and indicated he would consider their pleas.

Matthew Cobb, an assistant attorney general, said those e-mails did not differ much from other information that was accepted before the closing date. The e-mails, he said, constituted a "harmless error."

In October, Markow ruled against HCA's appeal of Stroube's rejection of their first request. Tony Raker, a spokesman for Loudoun Healthcare, said Markow was expected to rule on Friday's motions within a month.

HCA officials said they hope to break ground for the hospital by early 2005 and open by 2008. Loudoun Healthcare recently announced that it was merging with Inova Health System.