The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors sent a request to build the county's second hospital back to a committee for further study after a contentious public hearing Wednesday night, delaying a vote at least until September.
Supervisors also said they would submit written questions soon to HCA Inc., the Nashville-based chain that wants to build Broad-lands Regional Medical Center in eastern Loudoun.
More than 500 people jammed the Broad Run High School auditorium for the meeting, which lasted more than four hours. Supporters of the Broadlands project toted signs and bandannas and dragged in small mattresses to illustrate the need for more hospital beds in Loudoun. Opponents wore yellow T-shirts printed with the words "I live in the HCA fallout zone."
The proposed 164-bed hospital would be built on 57.7 acres just south of the Dulles Greenway on Route 659. Supporters say it would alleviate a shortage of inpatient health care in the fastest-growing part of the county. Many residents of the Broadlands subdivision say it would be an eyesore and traffic nightmare, and others who live along Route 50 say Loudoun's second hospital should be built closer to South Riding.
Even Loudoun County officials are split on the issue: County planning staff members have recommended approval of the hospital, but the Planning Commission, whose members are appointed by the supervisors, has recommended denial because of the traffic, noise and light the facility would generate, as well as its overall size -- at least six stories and 475,000 square feet, plus the potential for additions.
"This hospital in this location . . . just does not fit," Kent Larson, who lives near what would be the hospital's main entrance, said at the hearing. "It's not compatible with the neighborhood we bought into to raise our family."
The land, next to the school system's new administration building, which is scheduled to open this summer, is zoned for an office park, and special approval would be needed from the Board of Supervisors to build a hospital and a helipad. HCA has already received from the state health commissioner a certificate of public need required to build the hospital.
"Loudoun County has among the fewest beds per capita in the state," Mark Looney, a lawyer representing HCA, said at the hearing. He said that Loudoun has about 0.6 beds per 1,000 residents, about half the ratio in the rest of Northern Virginia, and that the figure would remain relatively low even if Broadlands Regional Medical Center was built.
"This project offers choice for services other than the dominant provider," he said, referring to Inova Loudoun Hospital, which has a 155-bed hospital in Lansdowne five miles away from the Broadlands site and an emergency center and other facilities in downtown Leesburg. Loudoun Hospital strongly opposes the Broadlands proposal, saying that the hospital would be too close to its facilities and that the county's second hospital should be along Route 50. No official from Loudoun Hospital spoke at the hearing.
"A vote against this [proposal] is not a vote against the hospital; it's a vote against the location," said Nellie Beaman, a speaker at the hearing who lives in Ashburn about a mile from the proposed site.
Although most of the Broadlands residents who spoke Wednesday opposed the hospital, residents of other communities declared their support. The Ashburn Farm Homeowners Association, representing about 4,000 homes, presented a resolution in favor of the project.
Robert Connors of Ashburn Village, a health care consultant and retired Navy hospital administrator, praised the hospital's design and its location. "It only makes sense to put the services where most of the residents reside -- in eastern Loudoun County," he said.
Looney also said Broadlands Regional Medical Center would create 600 jobs in Loudoun and bring in at least $3 million a year in tax revenue. HCA has offered Loudoun County $8 million for road improvements, which most likely would be used to widen Route 659 and extend it closer to Route 50. A similarly sized office on the site would be required to pay only about $630,000 for roads, Looney said.
"It's Loudoun County's opportunity to secure a much-needed hospital now," he said after the meeting. "Now's the time to act, or who knows when [Loudoun] will get its next hospital."
He also said the hospital, with its extensive landscaping, would be a less intrusive neighbor than an office park that could be built there under existing zoning.
He said the hospital also would provide Broadlands with a permanent easement for four acres, which could be used for community activities.
The board's transportation and land-use committee is expected to discuss the project at its meeting July 25. The full board does not meet in August, so the earliest a vote could be taken would be September.