There’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.