Swedish Medical Center’s Cherry Hill hospital is proposing an expansion that is fundamentally incompatible with the surrounding low-rise, residential neighborhood.
Swedish Cherry Hill is smack in the middle of Squire Park, a neighborhood of families with young children, immigrants and people who have narrowly escaped getting priced out of the city.
Swedish’s public planning documents, the Major Institutions Master Plan and the associated Draft Environmental Impact Statement, are a Trojan horse. The 30-year expansion would undermine the City of Seattle’s Land Use Code and its Comprehensive Plan.
Swedish has sold 40 percent of its existing campus to a private developer, the Sabey Corporation. The two want to increase the campus from 1.2 million to 2.75 million square feet, with hospital uses accounting for only one-half of the total. The rest of the plan includes medical office buildings and a hotel for patients and their families.
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The Major Institutions Master Plan process was designed to give hospitals and institutions of higher learning special exemptions from the customary zoning, design review and permitting processes, while protecting the vitality and sustainability of residential neighborhoods.
In this case, however, a private developer is using the planning process to access these special exemptions in areas that otherwise would be zoned for single-family and low-rise residences.
In order to accommodate the 129-percent increase in size, Swedish and Sabey propose building structures, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, that are up to 200 feet tall. (The citizens advisory committee will discuss building heights at a Thursday meeting.) Imagine the Pan Pacific Hotel in the South Lake Union neighborhood plopped down in a low-rise, residential neighborhood.
The city’s Comprehensive Plan aims to increase density in designated “urban villages.” The Swedish project is not located in one of the city’s designated urban villages.
The Seattle Comprehensive Plan also designates areas for the growth of large employment centers. In these areas, significant public investment is made in infrastructure to accommodate intense development, including expanded transportation options. South Lake Union is one such center for biotech and other medical-related research facilities.
In the Central Area, specifically the Swedish Cherry Hill Campus, no such infrastructure is being added. It is not an area currently served by high-capacity light rail nor a streetcar, and has limited bus service. The plan would drive significantly more vehicles into this residential neighborhood, snarling traffic.
Substantially increased traffic associated with the proposed expansion would make the existing congestion on Cherry Street and James Street (especially as it connects with Interstate 5) even worse. Four additional intersections in the neighborhood would operate at extreme congestion during peak hours.
Residents in Madrona, Leschi and the Central District who access I-5 via James Street would be in for a big surprise if this proposal were ever approved. The transportation infrastructure in and around the Swedish Cherry Hill facility is simply not designed to accommodate these traffic volumes.
The intensity of development proposed by Swedish and Sabey could translate into additional conversion of residential-zoned property into commercial uses.
Bottom line: The proposed expansion simply cannot be accommodated at Swedish’s Cherry Hill hospital without posing an existential threat to an established, lively and diverse Seattle neighborhood. The additional jobs and medical services associated with the planned expansion can and should be accommodated in areas of the city that have the infrastructure.
The proposal that Swedish and Sabey have presented ignores the city’s own Land Use Code. It should be rejected.
Kenneth H. Torp is a member of the board of the 12th Avenue Stewards. Bill Zosel is a member of the board of the Squire Park Community Council.