Plans for a controversial major expansion at Seattle Children's hospital hit a stumbling block this week after a hearing examiner deemed the project too "aggressive" to the surrounding community.
Plans for a controversial major expansion at Seattle Children’s hospital hit a stumbling block this week after a hearing examiner deemed the project too “aggressive” to the surrounding community.
A Laurelhurst neighborhood group had objected to the size and impact of the proposed 1.5-million-square-foot expansion and persuaded city Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner to ask for more detailed information in April.
The proposal includes four buildings, a new emergency department, additional offices and parking.
Tanner’s recommendation, issued Tuesday, urged the City Council not to approve the project in its current form, which would more than double the hospital’s bed capacity from 250 to 600 by 2024.
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Children’s officials said Wednesday they plan to appeal immediately. The hospital has said it needs to expand its campus or it will be forced to build outside Seattle.
“We’re shocked and surprised by the hearing examiner’s decision,” said Lisa Brandenburg, chief administrative officer. “We feel that we can’t meet our mission without expanding … if we’re not able (to move forward) or we’re delayed significantly, that puts our region’s children at risk.”
Children’s is the only pediatric referral-center serving the four-state region of Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. Over the years, the hospital has been moving outpatient services and research operations off its Laurelhurst campus to free up space for inpatient care.
In her decision, Tanner cited potentially severe traffic impacts among her reasons for denial. She also questioned whether the hospital overestimated its long-term bed-need projections.
While stressing that Children’s serves a vital public benefit, she said the hospital “is not necessarily entitled to this intensity of development, in this place, at this time.”
Under Seattle’s land-use code, expansion plans for a major institution have to go through a series of reviews and processes, and Tuesday’s decision was one more step.
Ultimately, the City Council must vote on final approval, but the timing is uncertain. In these types of land-use cases, council members act in quasi-judicial fashion, meaning they don’t make a decision until they’ve heard all the evidence during a proceeding.
Jeannie Hale, president of the Laurelhurst Community Club, which opposes the size of the expansion, said she was “thrilled” by Tanner’s recommendation.
“We were suggesting a more moderate expansion, something along the lines of 750,000 square feet instead of 1.5 million,” she said.
The community club’s attorney, Peter Eglick, said Children’s should have scaled back its proposal.
“The hospital painted itself in a corner,” he said “They would not compromise. They wanted all or nothing.”
Brandenburg said the proposed development reflects the hospital’s future needs — nothing more, nothing less.
“We’re finding that we’re running at or near capacity, and this is our slow season. … Flu season hasn’t even hit,” she said.
“For the last two winters,” she added, “we’ve had times when we’ve had to cancel kids who needed surgeries or not accept patients.”
Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or firstname.lastname@example.org