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Redmond City Council sticks to tree-removal decision on Group Health site in Overlake: Concerned citizens want leaders to reconsider

On Tuesday, Redmond City Council approved a development plan for a 28-acre site in the Overlake area. The site is owned by Group Health Cooperative and will feature both business and residential buildings. - Courtesy Photo
On Tuesday, Redmond City Council approved a development plan for a 28-acre site in the Overlake area. The site is owned by Group Health Cooperative and will feature both business and residential buildings.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Members of the Redmond community continue to voice their concerns about City Council's decision to allow developers to eliminate more than 1,100 trees in Overlake to make way for a mixed-use development.

The topic dominated the public input portion of the first Council meeting of the year on Tuesday as speakers implored Council to reconsider the 6-to-1 approved plan and come up with an alternative that would preserve some of the trees. But Council members did not make any motions to reconsider and the development will move forward as planned, according to Council President Pat Vache.

Robert Berg of Sustainable Redmond, a group that encourages sustainability within the city, said he felt the planning and decision making for the former Group Health Overlake Hospital site at 2464 152nd Ave. N.E. deserved a better process with more community input.

"I felt that the process wasn't as transparent as it could've been," he said.

Berg added that if there had been more public discussion, they possibly could have come up a viable, alternative solution that would satisfy the developers as well as preserve the natural environment.

Former Redmond mayor Rosemarie Ives also spoke at Tuesday's meeting and agreed with Berg, saying the community outreach and public input portion of the process was insufficient.

Additionally, Ives said the Group Health Cooperative (GHC) site will help with growth management in the area, but there are other areas in Overlake that can be developed for housing and businesses — the development doesn't all have to be on the GHC site.

One of her concerns about eliminating all trees onsite is the resulting "sea of asphalt" in the area, pointing out that one of the reasons people are attracted to Redmond is the city's natural beauty. Ives said she is worried the Council's decision to grant an exception to the City of Redmond's ordinance requiring new developments to retain at least 35 percent of trees onsite will set a precedent for future developments.

Ives also said the mitigation trees, which will be planted offsite at a 3-to-1 ratio for all trees removed, will not be sufficient because the ecological benefits coming from young trees would not compare to the benefits of their full-grown counterparts.

Redmond resident Mary Wirta has followed the GHC development's progress and has spoken during previous public hearings on the topic and asked Council to reconsider because the community was originally told that some of the trees onsite would remain but the plan that has been approved shows the exact opposite.

"It almost appears to be a bait and switch," she told Council.

After Tuesday's meeting, Wirta said she was disappointed Council did not reconsider their decision despite having a number of people express their concerns for the trees on the GHC site including Sustainable Redmond and various neighborhood associations.

Vache said Tuesday was Council's last opportunity to reconsider their decision, but people can appeal the decision through Washington State's Superior Court. He also pointed out that it will still be a while before the plans are put into action because there are permits to be approved and lot lines to be changed — among other things.

"(Group Health is) a long way from any kind of construction project," he said.

Vache said while people and organizations such as Sustainable Redmond are expressly concerned about the trees onsite, Council must consider all the different impacts the development will have on the community, adding that sustainability has three factors: economic, social and environmental.

"You have to look at the whole picture," he said.

Vache said the development plan has been a years-long process and city staff and Council did consider the trees. However, they acknowledged that in order for the urban center, street grid, transportation and other factors in the area to work, the tress might not survive.

This being said, Vache pointed out that the site development will be done in phases and the trees will come down over the years. They won't all be cut down at once — or be clearcut as some have said.

"It's going to be piece by piece," Vache said.

He added that in addition to the mitigation trees, the developed site would also have vegetation planted as the landscaping calls for it.

"It will not be a place that is void of trees and shrubbery," Vache said.

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