On Tuesday evening, the Redmond City Council postponed its scheduled vote on the development plan for a 28-acre piece of land in the Overlake neighborhood that is owned by Group Health Cooperative (GHC).
The decision followed a public hearing during which nearly two dozen individuals voiced their concerns. Because of the amount of comments and information they have recently received, Council members voted unanimously to extend the public hearing at least through next week’s meeting on Dec. 13. At the Dec. 13 meeting, Council can take action to approve the plan, not approve it or continue the public hearing again.
Dennis Lisk, the associate planner for City of Redmond leading the project, said city staff will continue to take feedback from the public until Tuesday’s meeting and anyone with questions, comments or concerns can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAVE THE TREES
The majority of commenters at Tuesday’s meeting addressed the potential removal of the 1,000-plus trees located on the former hospital site.
Robert Berg with Sustainable Redmond, a grassroots organization whose mission is to encourage sustainability within the city through its citizens, businesses and local government, began the public testimonies by reading a letter the organization had sent to City of Redmond Mayor John Marchione, Council and city staff.
The letter stated that while Sustainable Redmond supports a plan for more urban, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly development, the group “strongly opposes the plan to remove all 1,050 existing trees.”
“We recommend not granting an exception to the city’s ordinance that 35 percent of trees be retained,” Berg read, referring to the developer’s request to remove all trees onsite. “This area is quite unique in that it is the only large stand of trees remaining in the Overlake area. It is the sense of forest, however small, in an urban setting that is the true gem here and should be preserved for the future.”
Laura Svancarek, an 18-year-old senior at Redmond High School agreed. She told Council she has been fortunate to grow up and spend time in nature and the outdoors. Removing the trees from the GHC site would take that invaluable opportunity from the city’s young people.
“This affects the youth of Redmond,” she said. “I think they deserve the opportunity to experience as much nature as they can.”
Other commenters urged Council to save the trees, listing a number of benefits such as habitats for local wildlife, improved air and water quality, shade in the summer, a wind buffer in the winter and green space within an urban landscape.
Redmond resident Barbara Thompson said being able to walk in green space and escape city life helps with stress relief.
“It keeps us healthy. It keeps our spirits healthy,” she said. “You can put up a building anywhere, but you can’t replace a tree.”
AN EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
Cindy Jayne, another member of Sustainable Redmond, told Council one of the reasons she moved to Redmond was because of the city’s efforts to preserve its trees and other natural elements, citing the 35-percent tree retention rule as an example. She closed by urging Council members to follow the spirit and letter of this code that requires new development to maintain at least 35 percent of trees onsite.
Lisk said exceptions to this code can be granted to projects in designated urban centers such as downtown and Overlake, which includes the GHC site. He added that if an exception is granted, the site developer must commit to replace the trees at a 1-to-1 ratio.
The GHC site contains 1,133 trees, but about 80 have been determined by an arborist to be diseased or unhealthy and will not need to be replaced.
Bill Biggs, vice president of administrative services for GHC, said GHC, City of Redmond and other parties involved have worked on the project for about two and a half years and thought about all the issues they face, including the onsite trees. He said their proposal outlines a tree-mitigation plan with a 3-to-1 ratio and the mitigation trees would be planted beforehand.
However, these new trees would be planted offsite, which is another concern as a few commenters said the new vegetation should benefit the local area. Lisk said the new trees would be planted in city parks, on city-owned land or on privately owned land with nature growth easements that the city has rights to. All three categories of land would be permanently protected from future development.
Lisk said the closest piece of possible mitigation land is about a mile or so from the GHC site, but in the Idylwood neighborhood. He said with the Microsoft Corp. campus and various commercial spaces and shopping center, the City of Redmond just doesn’t own much land in the Overlake neighborhood.