After years of pushback, Swedish Cherry Hill expansion plan set for approval

A process in its fourth year of shaping the development plans for the Central District’s Swedish Cherry Hill campus appears to have finally reached a conclusion. Monday afternoon, the full City Council is expected to approve the application for a new master plan and rezoning for the hospital and medical facilities at 500 17th Ave.

The approvals passed out of the Council’s planning committee two weeks ago in a “quasi-judicial” process following years of meetings and appeals against decisions in favor of the plan from Swedish and developer Sabey Corporation as neighborhood groups raised concerns about the size and scope of the planned expansion.

A 24-person citizens advisory committee 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. Finally this spring. Alternative 12 received the blessing of the City council committee.

Amendments to attempt to address lingering concerns and, according to Council member Lisa Herbold’s staff, “intended to a. make the mass of institutional structures more compatible with the neighborhood and b. create a more gradual transition from more intensive zones to less intensive zones” were approved by the committee:

(1) Western block Amendment: reduces the maximum allowable MIO height to 125’, resulting in approximately 98.400 s.f. reduction or about 6%.

(2) Eastern Block Height Amendment: Conditions a portion of this half-block down to zero feet.

If approved by the full Council, Monday’s votes will pave the way for Swedish to add an additional 1.5 million square feet to the 1.3 acre Cherry Hill Campus.

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8 thoughts on “After years of pushback, Swedish Cherry Hill expansion plan set for approval

  1. Thanks for writing about the Swedish/Sabey Master Plan, an important project in the Central Area. Your story, and headline, maybe, in a couple of instances, give a less than complete picture.

    The Squire Park Community Council is not and has not opposed the future expansion of Swedish Medical Center. The Seattle Land Use Code gives hospitals the opportunity to develop in residential neighborhoods because they provide a necessary and useful service to the City and society as a whole. That is fair.

    A number of years ago Swedish, deciding that it did not need all of its land, sold about half of its campus in the Central Area to the Sabey Corporation which had a plan to develop a biotech research center. That plan did not pan out. Subsequently the Sabey Corporation secured other tenants to occupy its portion of the former Swedish property.

    More recently, Swedish changed course and decided it needed significantly more space for one or more of its specialty services. Because Swedish proposed a plan that called for buildings as tall as 240 feet, vacating two neighborhood streets, and attracting as much as 8,000 new daily vehicle trips, the Community Council, with others, has advocated for less intense development. In particular, the Community Council has advocated that, in lieu of such a large new development, Swedish seek to reacquire some of the campus that Sabey bought for its failed biotech research plan. Then Swedish would be able to do all of the good work it does with less impact on the neighborhood and the City’s transportation system.

    Your story lists that among “issues driving the appellants” are “impacts on neighborhood parking.” Actually, that’s not it. However, a major issue driving appellants is traffic impact — on the neighborhood and beyond. (If you read the plan you will see what impact the Swedish plan will have, for example, on travel time on James St. between I-5 and Broadway — a route that is used by many, including Metro buses. It’s not a small impact.) In short, Squire Park Community Council has advocated that the City Council approve a plan that does not result in so many thousands of vehicle trips per day to a residential neighborhood. The Comprehensive Plan as well as the extensive investment being made in transit infrastructure wants major new traffic generators to be located next to light rail stations and frequent all day bus routes. The Central Area is not such a location.

    A great degree of new development by Swedish is fine. However, we think the example provided by Children’s Hospital is a good one where, rather than expanding entirely within its Laurelhurst neighborhood, Children’s is building major new research facilities in South Lake Union where the use is more compatible with the neighborhood and, most importantly, the transportation infrastructure is in place or is planned.

    The Swedish/Sabey plan would add thousands of daily visitors to an area that is not well-served by mass transit. This is a disservice to all, not the least of which the people who will be commuting to and from the location. Channeling job growth into areas near light rail stops is one of the most important parts of solving the region’s transportation issues.

    Major Institution Master Plans are complicated and it’s hard to convey the nuances in a few sentences or paragraphs.

    • Well said, Bill. I think you have hit on many of the salient historical points. We who live in the neighborhood are impacted and I find that the transportation system is not supporting Swedish expansion plans. The use of the space needs to be compatible with the neighborhood or move those functions to another part of the city with the infrastructure to support it. My hope is that Swedish will advocate for more transportation options for the Cherry Hill campus and provide parking for patients and their families who need to be closer to the hospital.

    • “…wants major new traffic generators to be located next to light rail stations and frequent all day bus routes. The Central Area is not such a location. ”

      It should be one. We should solve this problem by building better transit infrastructure, not by rejecting major investment in hospital development. This is a city, and it’s long past time to start acting one and to let go of the dead suburban dream of the 20th century.

    • what’s wrong with “buildings as tall as 240 feet”? You imply that it’s bad for some reason but are not specifying it.

  2. We have been taking a relative there three times a week for four months. There is simply no place to park, and he must be picked up every visit inside the building. No matter what mass transit girls, people still need to drive to hospitals.

  3. Thank you Bill and all for your comments. Another important point to watch today is the SOV rate that is imposed.

  4. What’s wrong with 240 foot-tall buildings? A fair question. In the abstract, nothing.

    But one of the principals around which the Land Use Code in Seattle is organized, as it is in many U.S. cities, is the principal that there should be gradual transitions between zones of different height. Immediately adjacent to the Swedish/Sabey boundaries are zones where it is not possible to build above 40 feet.

    Future zoning changes will see many areas in Seattle with greater height limits in order to accommodate more housing. But it’s reasonable to expect that those changes will include respect for transitions.

    And, maybe even more importantly, the number of employees and other daily commuters attracted to a 240-foot building would put a demand on the transportation infrastructure that residential streets and residential transit service are not designed to handle. Maybe it would be good to have a rapid transit system in the Central Area that serves so many new employees, but an extension of rapid transit is not being proposed. There are other places in Seattle where a 240 foot building would not contribute to such a degree to the worsening of City and regional auto traffic.