City and Sustainable Redmond reach agreement on Group Health trees in Overlake
By SAMANTHA PAK
Redmond Reporter Reporter
June 27, 2012 · Updated 9:21 AM
The terms of agreement, which stemmed from a nine-hour meeting on April 23 with all three groups, were approved on May 22 and have ended the legal action Sustainable Redmond had taken against the city earlier this year, said City of Redmond planning director Rob Odle.
The grassroots organization led a group of appellants who had filed a land-use petition in King County Superior Court to block GHC's plans to cut down 1,050 "significant" trees on the site located at 2464 152nd Ave. N.E. A court date had been set for next week but with the new agreement, it has been canceled, Odle said.
"I think it's wonderful for everybody," he said about the groups coming to an agreement and ending litigation.
Bill Biggs, vice president of administrative services for GHC, agreed. He said they are glad the three groups were able to come to an agreement just by sitting down and talking.
"We're pleased that we got to a settlement," he said.
This settlement stipulates that GHC pay the city $20,000 "upon the first closing of a sale of all or any portion of the Group Health property," according to the settlement document. This money will be used to transplant onsite trees to another location or to buy new trees to plant in Overlake Village.
Robert Berg, cochair for Sustainable Redmond, added that no one is ever "thrilled" to go to court, so he is also glad the groups have been able to come to an agreement.
He also said it was never guaranteed they would get what they wanted if they continued with litigation.
"There's just no way of knowing," he said.
The mitigation trees that were originally going to be planted to replace the ones being cut down would have been planted in other areas of Redmond. Berg said Sustainable Redmond and the other appellants wanted a better outcome for the Overlake Village neighborhood.
"I think we got there to some degree…We felt like it was the right thing to do," he said about the terms of the settlement agreement.
Per the agreement, Odle said GHC will provide funding to have some of the trees on the site transplanted to other areas throughout Overlake Village. He added that the amount of money Group Health will contribute has been determined but he is not able to disclose that number at this time.
Odle said a limited number of selected trees will be transplanted as they have to be trees the city can reasonably move.
"There are physical limitations," he said, explaining why the larger trees onsite will not be transplanted.
Odle said city staff will be at the site in the next few months to evaluate the trees and determine which ones can be moved. He added that timing — when a section of the site is being developed and whether land is available to transplant to — is also going to be a determining factor.
"These are all details that can be worked out later," he said.
If trees are unable to be moved, Odle said the city can also plant new evergreen trees in their place.
"The funding (from GHC) can be used to buy new trees," he said.
Berg added that in some cases it will just make more sense and be more practical to buy new trees rather than pay to transplant a larger tree.
"At a certain point, it becomes economically infeasible," he said.
The settlement agreement also clarifies and reiterates opportunities for public input for tree retention, removal or replacement during the planning process regarding the planned 2.67-acre park on the Group Health site.
Berg said with this there is the potential of retaining more trees onsite, but that will depend on how much people get involved.
"That's gonna take public input," he said.
Berg added that he wants to continue to partner with the city on future development projects and hopes to see more citizens get involved. He said if people stand up for what they care about and let city officials know, it will shape policy.
However, it needs to be a group effort.
"It takes public engagement," Berg said. "It can't just be Sustainable Redmond. It takes everyone."
In addition to the park, the vacant property's plans include 10-12 apartment buildings, 1.4 million square feet of commercial space and a 180-room hotel. The site was previously the campus for Group Health Overlake Hospital before it closed in 2008 and is bordered by the Microsoft, Corp. campus and next to a proposed East Link light rail station.
Biggs said Group Health is continuing to actively look for a buyer and developer for the site.
"We have always communicated that it is our intention to sell the site," he said.
GHC is initially focusing on looking for a buyer to purchase the entire property, but Biggs said if that doesn't work out, they will look into multiple buyers who will buy different sections of the land. He said when looking at a large acquisition such as the GHC site, buyers want stability, which is another reason why they are happy about the settlement.
"This provides that (certainty)," he said.
STEEP LEARNING CURVE
Former Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives was part of the initial group of appellants but removed herself because she had been overseas for almost two months following a nine-hour mediation meeting on April 23 and was unable to attend any additional meetings leading up to the settlement agreement.
"I was not a party to it…what goes on in the room stays in the room," she said about the process.
Ives said challenging the city in a situation such as this is not easy as there are many financial implications and "very few people have the resources to do that."
"I'm very proud and impressed, especially of the leadership of Sustainable Redmond," Ives said about how the group worked throughout the process.
This is the first time Berg had been involved in a lawsuit. He said land-use petitions are not very common so the process was probably unfamiliar to most people involved.
"I think there's a steep learning curve for everyone," he said.Contact Redmond Reporter Reporter Samantha Pak at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-867-0353, ext. 5052.