Swedish tries to get approval for controversial Cherry Hill campus master plan

Tomorrow morning, the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee hears an application from Swedish Health Services to approve a new master plan for their Cherry Hill campus that allows for significant expansion on the site — both horizontally and vertically. And the neighbors are not happy.

The campus’s last master plan expired in 2009 but was extended to 2011. But since then they have been trying to get a new master plan through the city approval system. This involves running the gauntlet of a hearing examiner and a Community Advisory Council, filing lots of paperwork, asking for public comments, and trying to negotiate changes that will address concerns raised by neighbors and other stakeholders.

And there were a lot of concerns raised, the gist of which is that the level of expansion requested by Swedish would push into the Cherry Hill neighborhood the kind of intensive (and tall) development that is typical of First Hill. The neighbors are flat-out against it, and have spoken up with an unprecedented level of unanimity. They also complain that Swedish has been unwilling to work with them to address their concerns.

The final report of the hearing examiner lays out all the details of the proposed master plan, summarizes the concerns raised by  neighbors and stakeholders, and in the end recommends approval of the project with 102 conditions. (yes, you read that right: 102)  And even that isn’t close to enough: there are seven appeals of the hearing examiner’s recommendation that have been submitted as well. Here’s the Citizens Advisory Committee appeal; here’s the Cherry Hill Community Council; and here is a rather damning appeal from a private citizen who has nothing good to say about Swedish. The big issue is building heights; Swedish wants to increase them to 150-160 feet. But the appeals raise several other issues, including questioning their justification for the expansion and claims that their mitigation plans for increased traffic are inadequate.

The Director of the Office of Planning and Development issued a 118-page report, recommending approval but also with lots of conditions.

(if you have nothing better to do for several hours, you can wade through it all here. I haven’t made it through all of it yet but will try to do so tomorrow to give a fuller report)

I don’t envy the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee, which needs to make sense of this in their meeting tomorrow. Expect lots of angry public comments and a contentious discussion with the Council members. With so many stakeholders united against this I can’t imagine it’s something they can approve tomorrow, or at any point in the future in its current form. The question is more of what path they choose to take forward: to simply reject it outright and send it back to the drawing board, or try to use their own political muscle and negotiation skills to shepherd the process of reshaping it into an acceptable compromise. Either way, tomorrow’s hearing will be interesting. The Cherry Hill neighborhood is in District 3, which is represented by Council member Sawant; we’ll see if she or the two city-wide council members, Gonzalez and Burgess, make appearances The three official committee members are Johnson, O’Brien and Herbold, who should all be in attendance, though all Council members are invited to all committee meetings.

UPDATE: here’s a Capitol Hill Seattle Blog article from last year that’s a nice summary of the issues.