The Emerald Heights retirement community is planning on expanding at its current campus with a new assisted living building along 176th Avenue Northeast, a decision that has prompted backlash from neighbors.
The proposal to create a three-story building was submitted to the city in 2016 and will help meet the needs of an increasing senior population, said Emerald Heights Executive Director Grant Linacre.
“We looked at what is it going to take to provide our residents the best care moving forward,” Linacre said.
The building would be erected in a forested area of the property adjacent to the street.
Neighbors have raised concerns that this will change the character of their neighborhood and that the buildings will be visible from the road.
At the Nov. 21 Redmond City Council meeting, several neighbors asked the council to look into the issue.
They cited a rezoning application filed by Emerald Heights, which is a nonprofit, in 2010 that included a conceptual design stating they had no plans to develop in the forested area along the road.
The rezone allowed Emerald Heights to greatly increase density and the amount of structures they could build on the 38-acre property. They also received a density bonus, which allowed them to create far more units per acre on the property.
“We really feel that the commitment is on our side that they signed and said they would uphold in exchange for getting this great upzone, and triple density bonus, so we are holding them to their commitment,” said Howard Harrison, a former city council member and Emerald Heights neighbor.
Linacre said when they submitted the documents, they didn’t intend to develop along the road.
After reviewing other locations for the assisted living building, however, he said they discovered that these wouldn’t be feasible.
Of the 38 acres, some 17 are not developed either for environmental concerns or due to landscape features like steep slopes.
Another reason, Linacre said, is the placement of utilities that would be disrupted during construction if they had built on their original site.
Another is the prior location would not allow enough space for firetrucks to reach the rear of the assisted living buildings.
Emerald Heights offers three broad levels of service.
The first is residential living, which provides an apartment in the inter-connected building.
These serve the residents who need the least help in their day-to-day lives.
The second is assisted living, which offers increased services to residents.
Finally, Emerald Heights also offers nursing and hospice care for patients.
The current assisted living and nursing facilities are located in the main building on separate floors. Many of the rooms have two beds which, when the facility was constructed in 1992, was standard.
Linacre said standards have evolved since then toward single-occupancy rooms, especially for nursing and hospice care residents.
Creating the new assisted living buildings would provide space for single-occupant rooms for both assisted living and nursing care patients.
“That’s what we wanted to bring to our residents,” Linacre said.
Carlos Caguiat lives at Emerald Heights and said the new building could improve the quality of life at the facility.
“It’s important that we have the additional space, and importantly, a place where we can live with dignity,” he said.
But some neighbors who spoke at the city council meeting said they felt Emerald Heights was pitting residents against the neighbors.
This thought was echoed in an interview with council member John Stilin, who was on the council when the upzone was approved and who also lives in the neighborhood.
He said the 2010 rezoning application should be taken into account.
However, despite neighbors’ claims, Redmond City Planning Director Karen Haluza said the 2010 documents are not binding since they were a conceptual plan.
Her staff is reviewing the new application for the assisted living building, and will take factors such as how they will affect the neighborhood’s character into account.
“At the end of the day, our analysis has to be based on the criteria in our comprehensive plan and our zoning code,” she said.
One of these criteria is the visibility of the new buildings.
Many neighbors became aware of the proposed development this May when notices were sent out.
Linacre said Emerald Heights staff had been presenting their ideas to the city’s planning commission following their submission in 2016, but that few neighbors were at the meetings.
Following a community meeting between Emerald Heights and neighbors, Linacre said they made some adjustments to their plans.
This included breaking up the roof-line of the building, including setbacks and bay windows and changing the color scheme to a darker palate.
The building was also set back around 25 feet from the road, which allows them to keep more of the large existing trees to mask the building from the street.
Their updated plan calls for removing 93 trees and replacing them with 117.
Emerald Heights, which serves more than 500 residents and has a waiting list, is trying to address current levels of needs, Linacre said.
“This isn’t just us trying to grow for the sake of growth,” he said. “We’re going to find the right solution for our residents, and hopefully make that as positive for everyone around us.”
But the neighbors of Emerald Heights seem similarly bent of preventing the development.
“We’re committed to stopping the building in the green belt,” Harrison said.
There is no timeline yet for when the city planning department will finish reviewing the proposal.
This story has been corrected to reflect the correct number of residents and that the new setback from the road was also a total of around 25 feet.