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MedStar plans to open medical facility near proposed Bel Air Walmart site

Walmart is not the only business itching to get into the corner of Plumtree Road and Route 924 south of Bel Air. MedStar Health announced Monday plans to build a 100,000-square-foot healthcare facility on a parcel behind Walgreens and Sonic, at the east end of Plumtree.

The site of the proposed MedStar building is 16 acres, MedStar health's public affairs vice president Jean Hitchcock said. She said the $30 million building would add about 20 doctors to the 40 MedStar already has working in Harford County.

Access to the site would be through the signalized intersection at Emmorton and Plumtree roads, she said.

Although Hitchcock was uncertain how MedStar's site relates to the site of the Walmart planned on 32 acres in the southwest quadrant of the intersection, the lawyer for the owner of the Walmart site said his client's property is not involved in MedStar's plan.

"I can confirm this building [MedStar's] is not going on my client's property," Robert Lynch, lawyer for EvergreenBusinessTrust, which owns the proposed Walmart site, said.

There is another undeveloped site northeast of the intersection where Plumtree road is to be extended to serve that property. According to Maryland tax records, a 16.27 acre lot that is part of the Park Avenue at Bel Air commercial development is owned by 2001 Emmorton Road LLC and gives an address at 8601 Robert Fulton Drive, Suite 200, in Columbia.

The Robert Fulton Drive address is also the address for the Columbia office of Manekin Corporation, a regional residential and commercial developer active in Harford. A phone message left at the Manekin office late Monday afternoon was not immediately returned.

According to MedStar's Hitchcock, a community input meeting is scheduled for January for their project, which would feature specialized services like women's health, orthopedics, cardiology, sports medicine, weight-loss surgery, cancer care and rehabilitation.

If Harford County approves it, MedStar plans to start construction by fall of 2013 and open a year later, she said.

Hitchcock said MedStar knows the project will mean navigating the "minefield" of the Walmart controversy, which is why the institution's engineers are studying the traffic impact the development would have. Many residents living in the area are trying to fight the county giving its final approval to the Walmart project, while Walmart has undertaken its own public relations campaign to garner support for its new store.

"That is a huge question, we know, and it was a big issue for the Walmart development," Hitchcock said about traffic.

The Medstar facility would also include community meeting rooms and free wireless Internet, according to a news release, and would add more than 70 jobs to the area.

MedStar already has sports medicine services in Harford County, Hitchcock said. Its hospitals, particularly Franklin Square in Rosedale and Union Memorial in Baltimore, have long served Harford residents.

In announcing the office building project, MedStar's news release quoted Dr. William H.B. Howard, a surgeon, lifelong Joppa resident and a founder of Union Memorial Sports Medicine.

"I'm proud to be a part of the team that already serves thousands of Harford residents, and am excited about MedStar's decision to develop a comprehensive care plaza that will increase choice and access to high-quality healthcare services for our residents close to home," Howard said in the news release.

"The programs we have up there have really got a lot of growth, a lot of demand for their services," Hitchcock said. "This is an extension of what we are already doing up there."

The planned MedStar facility is likely to rekindle the competition between that organization and Upper Chesapeake Health, now an affiliate of the University of Maryland Medical Center, which battled for control of the Harford County health care market throughout the 1990s, until the latter built a new hospital on the south side of Bel Air.

Upper Chesapeake's flagship Upper Chesapeake Medical Center campus is less than two miles north of the Bel Air South area where MedStar plans to build.

But Hitchcock said the area clearly needs more medical services.

"It's a growing community," she said of the Bel Air area. "There are so many people that need health care that don't have access to it that we were surprised how many people were leaving your community to get health care."

MedStar has not submitted a site plan to the county yet, Hitchcock said, but representatives "have met with some county folks and gone over the whole proposal."

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