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Redmond City Council OKs 28-Acre Group Health Redevelopment

Some residents had voiced objection to the project because it calls for the removal of more than 1,000 trees.

The Redmond City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a development agreement with Group Health Cooperative, paving the way for a to the Overlake neighborhood.

The development agreement will expire in either 15 or 20 years, depending on the fate of a proposed amendment to the city's master plan that would extend the limit of development agreements.

The vacant property, located at 2464 152nd Ave. NE, is the site of a hospital that closed in 2008. The parcel is bordered by the campus and is adjacent to a proposed East Link light rail station.

Prior to Tuesday's vote, about the 1,050 "significant" trees that would be removed as part of the development plan. (A significant tree is defined by the city as a tree with a diameter of 6 inches or more at a height of 4½ feet above the ground.)

In approving Group Health's plans for the property, the city council also approved an exception to a section of the city's zoning code that requires developers to retain 35 percent of existing significant trees. Group Health representatives had argued that complete tree removal is necessary because tearing up existing pavement would compromise their structural integrity, while the removal of surrounding trees would make the ones that remain vulnerable to wind storms.

Joe Shuster, one of four people who spoke at Tuesday's meeting on behalf of Sustainable Redmond, said he was "very excited" about the mixed-use, transit-oriented development but urged council members to find a way to preserve some of the site's wooded areas and incorporate existing trees into the plan.

"We want the forest—that's the unique thing," he said.

Several city council members said they, too, would like the trees to stay but believe that removing them is a necessary step in establishing Overlake as a regional urban center and preventing unmanageable sprawl in other areas.

Moreover, council member John Stilin said, a mitigation plan that calls for 3,345 replacement trees to be planted at off-site locations helps ensure future residents will be able to enjoy significant expanses of forest.   

"We're at a point here where interests really collide, and we've got to make a good decision," Stilin said. "I think at the end of the day, we'll look at our urban environment...(and) we'll have forests where there should be forests, and we'll have development where there should be development."

Council member Kim Allen was the only person to vote against the development agreement, saying she would like a legal evaluation of the request for a tree-removal exception.

"Requiring tree protection does not run afoul of the GMA (Growth Management Act), and there is no citation to a case...that would require 100 percent tree removal here," Allen said. "We can make our growth targets and keep some of these trees." 

But council member Hank Margeson argued the plan's overall sustainability compensates for the loss of trees on the property. The new development will not only add affordable housing and economic vitality to the neighborhood, Margeson said, it will also leave the city with a net gain in trees.

"While this plan does take out 1,000 trees, it brings back upwards of 3,300 to 3,400 trees," he said. "Yes, they will not be at this site...but we will still gain more trees than we lost."

Catherine Wittel December 19, 2011 at 12:16 AM
It is hard to believe they could not save some of the trees. Even if they were given a variance and could not save 35%, couldn't they save some? It seems irresponsible to remove ALL the trees. I am more than certain there were enough intelligent architects and designers for this project who could have worked this out. It seems counter to Redmond's recently declared efforts at "sustainability."

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