The Redmond City Council approved a development plan for a 28-acre parcel that will add more residential and commercial space in the Overlake neighborhood with a 6-to-1 vote at a special meeting Tuesday night.
The site located at 2464 152nd Ave. N.E. is owned by Group Health Cooperative (GHC) and was previously the campus for Group Health Overlake Hospital before it closed in 2008. Plans feature a mixed-use area with residential and business buildings that would include up to 1,400 residential units and 1.4 million square feet in office and retail space as well as a 180-room hotel/conference center and a 2.67-acre park.
In approving the plan, Council also okayed an exception to a city code that requires new developments to retain at least 35 percent of the trees onsite.
The GHC plan calls for all 1,133 trees onsite to be removed, which raised concerns among residents and community members. The concerned parties spoke at Tuesday’s meeting as well as the Dec. 6 Council meeting, urging Council to not grant GHC the exception.
“This will be a tremendous loss to the community,” Yvonne Wang told Council members during the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
Wang is a member of Sustainable Redmond — an organization that encourages sustainability within the city — and also spoke out on the issue last week. During her testimony on Tuesday, she told Council that granting an exception to the 35-percent rule would not be consistent with the vision for the Overlake community and would be detrimental to the public as they would be losing one of the last — if not the last — urban forests in Redmond.
Council member Kim Allen also voiced her concerns about removing all of the trees onsite. As the only Council member to vote against the plan, she said initial discussions and plans called for saving some of the trees onsite. She said there is a case to be made to preserve less than the required 35 percent, but not to remove 100 percent of the trees. Allen added that she would like to see a legal analysis of the exception request.
“I’m not going to support this,” she said during the Council’s discussion leading up to the vote.
Council member Hank Myers said the GHC plans align with the City of Redmond’s goal for a pedestrian- and transit-friendly urban center in Overlake.
While the plan calls for all of the onsite trees to be eliminated, he pointed out that GHC has committed to plant mitigation trees offsite, including 10 acres before any work is done onsite. This will create a healthy, usable forest for residents to be excited about, Myers said.
Council member Hank Margeson added that the GHC plan goes beyond the city’s requirement to replace trees at a 1-to-1 ratio in the case of an exception as they have committed to a 3-to-1 mitigation plan.
All Council members emphasized the difficult decision they faced in approving the plan and granting the exception but most said removing the trees is necessary to establish Overlake as a regional urban center and manage growth in concentrated areas while preserving Redmond’s established neighborhoods and rural areas.
“For me, there’s no other choice than to support this,” said Council member David Carson said.
Upon the Council’s decision, Cindy Jayne of Sustainable Redmond said, “We’re certainly disappointed in the outcome.”
Jayne said they appreciate the opportunity to present their case to the Council, but would have liked to see more opportunity for input throughout the planning process.
Jayne added that Sustainable Redmond supports the GHC project overall and has a good working relationship with the City of Redmond — the two parties just happened to disagree on the particular issue of the trees.