Council to hear arguments on Swedish Cherry Hill campus expansion

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 2.21.09 PMThere’s a brewing storm for the Seattle City Council’s planning committee: the final decision on whether or not to approve the controversial Swedish Cherry Hill hospital expansion proposal, a plan that faces opposition from numerous local neighborhood groups. Saying no — or not yet — will further delay a critical expansion project for one of the area’s largest employers.

At a committee meeting Friday morning, Ketil Freeman from council central staff brought with council members Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold up to speed on the basics of the expansion proposal and a timeline for ruling on Swedish’s desired upzone to add an additional 1.5 million square feet to the 1.3 acre Cherry Hill Campus.

The expansion proposal has been several years in the making. In 2012, Swedish Health Services and the Sabey Corporation (who owns roughly 30% of the Cherry Hill campus) began the long process of applying to renew their Major Institution Master Plan [MIMP]—a city-approved development plan required for hospitals who want to deviate from standard zoning in the area—and they wanted up zones in the new version.

A 24-person citizens advisory committee [CAC] was formed in late 2012, and, in the spring of 2015, announced their official disapproval of the MIMP with correcting recommendations. The MIMP was then tentatively approved by the city (after five days of hearings over the summer), after which seven separate appeals were filed by the likes of the Squire Park Community Council, the Cherry Hill Community Council and several CAC members. Issues driving the appellants include the proposed height increases, the impacts on neighborhood parking, and the expansion’s consistency with the city’s comprehensive growth plan.

Last year, CHS covered a CAC meeting where neighbors called the expansion “out of scale with the neighborhood.” The Washington Community Action Network also filed an appeal due to Swedish’s alleged mishandling of medical debt, but dropped the case.

“Cherry Hill is not an urban center or urban village, so it [the expansion] calls into question the growth,” Freeman said of the appeal citing the comprehensive plan.

Now, after the city hearing examiner submitted a new draft of the MIMP — updated with some recommendations from the CAC —  it’s up to the city council to approve the expansion.

On March 1st, the committee will hear oral arguments from both the applicants for the expansion and its appellants. On March 15th, the committee will make a recommendation to full council; whether to approve the MIMP, reject it, or send it back to the hearing examiner for modification.

The committee members asked several clarifying questions, but gave no opinions on the expansion or its opposition. Council member Mike O’Brien asked Freeman to find out how the city enforces mandated single-occupancy vehicle [SOV] commuter rates attached to development proposals like the Swedish expansion. The previous MIMP mandated 50 percent while the Cherry Hill campus is currently at 57. The new MIMP would require an initial rate of 50 percent decreasing every two years.

“What’s the teeth on that transportation management plan,” said O’Brien. “It’s not like once you get to 50% that you can’t backslide.”

Freeman wrapped up the meeting by noting the oral arguments might be lengthy.

“But it’s not going to be five days, right?” council member Herbold joked, referencing last summer’s hearings.

A City Council memo from Friday’s meeting summarizing the proposal is below.

Central Staff Memo

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10 thoughts on “Council to hear arguments on Swedish Cherry Hill campus expansion

  1. Prediction: Swedish will get to build everything they want and the neighborhood will not get even the tiniest request granted. I’ve seen it time and again – unfortunately, it’s how Seattle’s government works now. The council becomes spineless and sides with large campaign donor developers everytime.

  2. I was at the city council meeting. There were about 15 people who had the stickers protesting “out of scale development”. One was a young woman probably in her 20’s but ALL the others were above 60 years of age. It really makes me wonder about what kind of people don’t want status quo changed. For the older people, they like the city as they had it for the past 2-3 decades but clearly things need to change because there isn’t enough capacity for all the people that are coming into Seattle.

    • This has zero housing attached to it.

      The council is right to be skeptical of Swedish’s transportation impacts – Swedish failed its goals the last time around.

    • I think the group was a bit more age diverse than you are portraying. Some of us are 60 years +, but I more than one was well under 60 years old. Again, as said by another, there is zero residential growth in this plan. If anything such institutions displace existing residential units and sometimes erode residential potential. I suggest you examine some of the other issues such as the transportation and infrastructure issues and maybe read up on Children’s Hospital and solutions found for the community there.

    • The age of the meeting attendees isn’t relevant. Everyone who is directly impacted by this expansion is entitled to an opinion. If you got all of the neighbors together, you would likely find people of all ages in agreement on this issue. The day and time of the meeting probably had a huge influence on who was in attendance. On a Friday morning, people in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s are typically going to be at work. There are not many jobs where you can just say “Hey, I’m taking the morning off to attend a city council hearing.”

  3. I live across the street from swedish. I don’t care how big they want to build, I just don’t want their employees driving to work.

    • My employer provides a free Orca card too. It’s a nice convenience, but it takes me 45 minutes to bus to work in SLU from First Hill, or I can take 20 minutes to walk, or like 7 minutes to drive. Most people won’t take public trans unless it’s convenient – and there’s some amount of inconvenience people are willing to endure, but despite best efforts, KC Metro can’t provide the reliability people want if they’re traveling from elsewhere.

      FWIW, I typically walk, but will bus when don’t feel like it. Of course, if the 309 ran both ways on Boren I’d bus every day…

  4. I think the 309 does run on Boren in both direction. Although it runs in only one direction in the morning and the other in the evening.

    • Well yes, you’re technically correct – it just happens to be going the opposite direction as me – and all the other people walking towards SLU in the AM, and back towards First Hill in the afternoon.

      Who would one contact at KCMetro about that – would be nice if they could do both directions since that bus only runs at peak times anyways. Would save me and many others literally 30 minutes vs other bus routes.