Friday, November 20, 2020

City Classifies Hospital's Next Large Development As "Exempt" Contrary To 100s Of Comments Submitted

Children's Hospital's next phase of expansion, called "Copper Project," includes a new surgery pavilion and parking garage, at a proposed height of 37 feet, to be located at the north end of Laurelhurst, in the area of 44th Avenue NE from NE 47th to NE 50th Streets. 

The buildings will be viewable by those living in that area, according to images prepared by the Hospital's contracted design firm. The buildings will also be situated close to the perimeter of the Hospital and residential boundaries. As neighbors have expressed in over 100 pages of comments submitted to the City, there will be significant  and permanent impacts  affecting the livability of the neighborhood.

Master Use Permit 3036201-LU states (as well as the signs around the perimeter):

Land use application to allow a 3-story building addition to existing institution (Children’s Hospital, Surgery Pavilion & Garage (2 buildings connected by a bridge span). Parking for 1,138 vehicles proposed. Portion of existing garage to be demolished.

At Wednesday's SAC meeting, it was reported the SAC members were surprised to hear that the City has already made a decision to deem the large development as "exempt." A slide in the evening's presentation said:

The Advisory Committee shall be given the opportunity to review a proposed minor or major amendment and submit comments on whether it should be considered minor or major, and what conditions (if any) should be imposed if it is minor. 

Colin Vasquez, City Design Review Planner assigned to this project announced to the SAC that the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDC(I) Director, Nathan Torgelson, had already made its decision, though he said that he has never spoken with Torgelson about the project and the decision.  

Another slide stated: 

A proposed change to an adopted master plan shall be reviewed by the Director and determined to be an exempt change, a minor amendment, or a major amendment. The Director's decision that a proposed amendment is minor or major shall be made in the form of an interpretation subject to the procedures of Chapter 23.88, Rules; Interpretation. If the Director and the Major Institution agree that a major amendment is required based on subsection E of this section, the interpretation process may be waived, and the amendment and environmental review process shall be subject to the provisions of subsection G of this section. After the Director makes a decision on whether an amendment is minor or major, the Advisory Committee shall be notified.

Here is a slide explaining an exempt change:

Criteria for Exempt Changes to MIMP 23.69.34.B 

Exempt Changes. An exempt change shall be a change to the design and/or location of a planned structure or other improvement from that shown in the master plan, which the Director shall approve without publishing an interpretation. Any new gross floor area or parking space(s) must be accompanied by a decrease in gross floor area or parking space(s) elsewhere if the total gross floor area or parking spaces permitted for the entire MIO District or, if applicable, the subarea would be exceeded. Each exempt change must meet the development standards for the MIO District. Exempt changes shall be: 

1. Any new structure or addition to an existing structure not approved in the master plan that is twelve thousand (12,000) square feet of gross floor area or less; or 

2. Twenty (20) or fewer parking spaces not approved in the master plan or

3. An addition to a structure not yet constructed but approved in the master plan that is no greater than twenty percent (20%) of the approved gross floor area of that structure or twenty thousand (20,000) square feet, whichever is less; or 

4. Any change in the phasing of construction, if not tied to a master plan condition imposed under approval by the Council; or 5. Any increase in gross floor area below grade.

Explanations for major and minor amendments can be found here

It has been reported that some SAC members did not understand why they had not been informed prior to the meeting about the Director's very important decision.  

SAC members also were not informed that the Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) and David Yuan, an adjacent resident to the Hospital, submitted a request to the City for a Code Interpretation regarding SCDI's preliminary decision to label the Phase 3 SCH project as an "exempt."

LCC told the Laurelhurst Blog:

SDCI is not considering the Phase 3 changes as a Major, nor a Minor Amendment to the originally approved MIMP (Major Institution Master Plan. If they ruled it Major or Minor, it triggers a Supplemental EIS requirement to study any potential impacts from the project.

LCC understands from SDCI, that the SAC does not have input about this decision. The SAC design review process would make more sense after a decision on the Request for Interpretation is issued, perhaps by year end. 

The City website explains a Code Interpretation: 

A code interpretation is a formal decision on the meaning, application, or intent of any development regulation in our Land Use or Environmentally Critical Area codes. Interpretations are site-specific. They do not address how a standard applies in general, but rather how it applies to a specific site or development proposal. You can request an interpretation that is not related to a pending project, that is related to a pending project, or that is related to a pending project that is subject to appeal. 

The Code Interpretation letter, submitted by LCC's attorney states (in part):

This RFI is submitted because the categorization of the SCH Proposal as a Major or Minor Amendment will have significant impacts on how the interests of the surrounding community will be recognized and protected during the City’s review. To date, this critical question has not been sufficiently explored for the SCH Proposal, which will significantly burden the community.

The SCH Proposal must be classified as a Major, not Minor Amendment. To fit in the Minor Amendment category, a proposal must be “consistent with the original intent of the adopted master plan.” SMC 23.69.035 D. As explained below, the SCH proposal is not consistent with this original intent, and in several respects undermines the MIMP’s protective and mitigative purposes. First, SCH proposes an entirely new road network within its campus. In the 2010 MIMP, currently in effect, Penny Drive was shown in a SE orientation and provided access directly to the Ocean garage, south of the corner of 44th Ave NE and NE 47th St. Separately, the 2010 MIMP included a small access road, designed for service and fire access, in the 75’ buffer behind the North Garage. SCH specifically labeled the road as “Service and Fire Access” in the map in the adopted 2010 MIMP.

The current SCH Proposal entirely redesigns and changes the function of the road network inside the SCH campus, to the detriment of the adjacent community. SCH would build a brand-new perimeter road that is parallel to 44th Ave. NE. All visitors parking at the Ocean Garage (608 parking spaces) will be diverted to this perimeter road sited on the outside edge of SCH property and immediately adjacent to single family homes. 

Penny Drive will now run SE, and then east and south. The former low use fire access and service road in the 75’ buffer will be lengthened substantially and transformed into an I-5-like corridor, serving as the major roadway providing ingress and egress to the existing 600 plus stall Ocean garage right next to the residential homes along 44th Ave NE. Further, unlike I-5, which experiences substantial reductions in activity depending on time of day, hospitals function 24/7 with multiple shift changes – intensifying impacts on residents. The Proposal’s new road network is far more and much worse than a mere “realignment” of Penny Drive. It bears no resemblance to the configuration of Penny Drive from the 2010 MIMP.

SCH is proposing to create an entirely new road network. That network will needlessly -- and contrary to the mitigative and protective intent of the MIMP – impose the impacts of adjacency to heavy traffic on the surrounding residential community.  

Additional MIMP and City Council statements, including the following, make unmistakable the fundamental 2010 MIMP premise that, to protect the neighboring community from its impacts, hospital expansion would occur at the bottom of the campus and adjacent to Sand Point Way NE: A. “Children’s revised its proposed MIMP to include early expansion onto Laurelon (Alternative 7R)… The change also allowed Children’s to… place increased height and bulk at a lower elevation where it is removed from most single-family neighborhoods to the east and south…. “ Seattle City Council Findings, No. 52, Page 10 (emphasis added) B. … “Children’s Master Plan… carefully balances the urgent need for additional capacity at the hospital with innovative programs and plans that respond to community concerns. Children’s commitment to purchase Laurelon Terrace, thus moving the bulk of its expansion “downhill” and adjacent to the Sand Point Way NE arterial and refining the proposed development through transitional heights and building setbacks, represented an extraordinary mitigation measure to reduce the impact of the expansion on neighbors.” 2010 MIMP, page 9 (emphasis added) C. “The Master Plan allows Children’s to… place the majority of new development on the Laurelon Terrace site…2010 MIMP, page 9. D. “The Master Plan will primarily utilize the lower elevations of the expanded campus for new development…. The majority of the new buildings will be located on the lowest areas of the expanded hospital campus and closest to Sand Point Way NE and 40th Avenue NE on Laurelon Terrace. 2010 MIMP, page 42.

To avoid impacts on the neighboring community, City Council approved -- against public policy for preservation of housing -- SCH acquisition of Laurelon Terrace, displacement of its residents, and redevelopment of the downhill Laurelon Terrace site. The Proposal, by constructing a hospital building at the top of the hill instead of downhill near Sand Point Way NE, would abandon a core principle of the 2010 MIMP.

As noted above, the Proposal must be categorized as a Major, not Minor, Amendment because, to fit in the Minor Amendment category, a proposal must be “consistent with the original intent of the adopted master plan” and the SCH proposal is not consistent with the 2010 MIMP. SMC 23.69.035 D. If the Proposal is nonetheless deemed MIMP consistent, it is then within the Minor Amendment category because: 1) the construction of the new perimeter road will “be materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity in which the Major Institution is located;….” SMC 23.69.035(D)(2); and 2) The construction of the surgery pavilion on the eastern edge of the site and at the highest point of the Hospital’s property will “result in significantly greater impacts than those contemplated in the adopted master plan.” SMC 23.69.035(D)(1). 

After hearing the Director's decision on "exempt" status, it is reported that several SAC members expressed that they did not believe the meeting should continue with the presentation. Some members stated that the meeting should be postponed until SDCI made a decision on LCC's Request for Interpretation, expected sometime next month as how the presentation is viewed is impacted by the role the SAC will have in the design review process. A vote was taken and won by a small margin to continue the meeting and hear  the presentation.  

Following the presentation, Maureen Sheehan, Department of Neighborhoods' Major Institutions and Schools Coordinator, read the public comments received, with only  two minutes maximum allowed for each comment received, so not all comments were read in their entirety. 

The public comments read partially at the meeting can be found here

Public comments can still be submitted to  to or 206-684-0302. On December 3rd live public comments will be heard.

Public comments read at the meeting included these areas that neighbors will severely impacted and permanently changed the livability of the neighborhood with the current plan:

  • only one proposal submitted, no additional alternatives have been proposed or submitted to the SAC for review
  • City should require a Supplementary EIS to examine the impacts of the construction
  • height of the buildings need to be reduced
  • site of the new buildings needs to be lower on the hill
  • parking structures should be underground or greatly sunken
  • all access to the hospital should be limited to Sandpoint Way only rather than using neighborhood streets
  • current hospital roads need to be retained
  • Impacts - view, glare, lights, garage noise, building materials that are reflective from buildings onto homes (including cranes)
  • buffers should be green, wide and dense with all heritage trees retained
  • the site of the new buildings need to be lower on the hill
  • why development is on highest point of campus rather than lowest point
  • concerns with the construction of a new two-lane perimeter road within the buffer that leads to the Ocean Garage
  • impacts of a construction project that will take more than three years (projected total of 40 months) to build
  • impacts of congestion on NE 45th Street
  • construction truck volume making loop through neighborhood: 1 truck every 3 minutes on NE 45th, 45th Avenue NE and NE 50th Street and potential impacts, especially on narrow streets, near Elementary School
  • possible home foundation damage with continuous flow of heavy trucks for more than 3 years
  • diversion of traffic into neighborhoods especially 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th Avenues NE causing congestion
  • flagger on NE 45th Street for 3 years specifically assisting Hospital employees exiting newly opened exit from Hospital parking garage on NE 45th Street, backing up neighborhood traffic and favoring employee traffic
  • major shift in narrowing 75' buffer on northeast perimeter along 44th Avenue NE
  • new perimeter road to be situated next to the parking garage will be only for maintenance and emergency vehicles, however it is unclear how that will be enforced and not allow cars exiting garage to use the access road
  • the impacts of cutting down all 45 exceptional trees on the northeast part of the Hospital property
  • Hospital stating that the proposal is consistent with the MIMP and that it can move buildings around if desired

The meeting ended with the SAC deciding to hold another meeting in the next few weeks to discuss and deliberate on the Garage and Surgery Building's height, bulk, and scale, Eastern roadway and building setbacks in relation to landscaping. 

Below are only some of the comments the City has received of over 100 pages of comments on file:

The construction of a two-lane road in the buffer eviscerates the use of the buffer as a mitigation measure.  The proposal does not comply with the Council’s intent that the garden edge be used as a screen to protect the single family residences located next to the Hospital.  
Victoria Cleator, with the Hospital. states  in part that the Hospital is exempt from Council conditions. This is not true. When the City Council approved the 2010 MIMP, the Council envisioned using buffers as a tool to mitigate the height, bulk, scale, and other negative environmental impacts of the MIMP on the neighborhood.  In the Seattle City Council’s adopted Findings, Conclusions and Decision, the Council states that the “The proposed upper level setbacks [75 feet on the eastern edge] are designed to mitigate the impacts of additional height bulk and scale resulting from the MIMP.  These measures, along with the proposed landscaping, height restrictions and open space plan, provide adequate mitigation of height bulk and scale impacts on the surrounding properties.”  Seattle City Council, Findings, Conclusions and Decision, Seattle Children’s Hospital Major Institution Master Plan, dated April 5, 2010 (“Council’s Decision”)(page 23)(emphasis added).  Furthermore, “Mitigation measures are found in Children’s significant commitments that include…a commitment to landscaping that enhances the campus while shielding it from neighborhood properties.”  Council’s Decision, page 25 (emphasis added). 

The MIMP is governed by the Seattle City Council Decision in 2010.  The Council decision states: “Children’s shall create and maintain a Standing Advisory Committee (SAC) to review and comment on all proposed and potential projects prior to submission of their respective Master Use Permit applications.  The SAC shall use the Design Guidelines for their evaluation.”  Council’s Decision, Condition 15, page 28 (emphasis added). 

The Hospital's presentation for the SAC meeting includes a diagram labeled "Site Section at Surgery Building Looking South."  The top drawing is marked "MIMP."  It is not an accurate reflection of the MIMP bacause there is no road for cars that runs next to the North Garage (and parallel to 44th Ave NE).  This is restricted to fire and emergency access.  Second, none of the photos or diagrams of this area reflect the current condition (pages 36 and 37).  The photo does not show the gates restricting access to the parking area.  (this is the photo that I took on Nov. 18th)  The Hospital may try to argue that there is already an existing “ road” within the north parking lot.  This is simply not true.  Also just because the existing greenery within this buffer area next to 44th Ave NE is very thin and porous does not mean that the Hospital can continue to ignor the Seattle City Council’s Decision.  The Council specifically required the Hospital to mitigate its impact on the neighbors to the east (homes on 44th Ave NE).   

In April 2010 when the Seattle City Council approved the Hospital’s 2010 MIMP, the City adopted Ordinance 123263 and the Council’s Findings, Conclusion and Decision (shortened to “Council’s Decision” going forward). “Children’s Final MIMP… is… adopted by the City Council subject to the conditions contained in Council’s [Decision)].” Ordinance 123263, page 1 The Council’s Decision controls the development of the medical and parking facilities and the site plan shown in the MIMP. Assertions have been made that the SAC must limits its review of the Proposal to the Design Guidelines. In other words, the SAC cannot refer to the MIMP or the Council’s Decision. This makes no sense. When the Hospital responded to numerous questions posed by SAC members at the August 31st meeting, the Hospital repeatedly used the MIMP as justification for proposed Project Copper. The Hospital itself placed the MIMP on the table and has opened the door to using the MIMP as the basis for assessing Project Copper. For example, in response to a question from a SAC member regarding the proposed construction of a two-lane road in the buffer, the Hospital referred to the MIMP four times. In response to a question from a SAC member regarding the proposed construction of the Surgery Pavilion at the highest point of the property, the Hospital referred to the MIMP five times. 2 Since the Hospital states that the MIMP authorizes the Proposal, SAC members must review the MIMP and the Council’s Decision in order to assess the validity of this claim. In the Council’s 2010 Decision, the Council explained that it intended to use buffers on the Hospital property as a tool to mitigate the height, bulk, scale, and other negative environmental impacts of the MIMP on the neighborhood. The Council states “The proposed upper level setbacks [75 feet on the eastern edge] are designed to mitigate the impacts of additional height bulk and scale resulting from the MIMP. These measures, along with the proposed landscaping, height restrictions and open space plan, provide adequate mitigation of height bulk and scale impacts on the surrounding properties.” Council’s Decision (page 23). Project Copper must be assessed based on the mitigation measured imposed by the City Council. The SAC should determine for itself the following: 1. What did the Council say when it imposed the Council’s Decision on the MIMP? 2. Does Project Copper comply in full (or in part) with th Council’s Decision and the MIMP? 3. Does the Council’s Decision and the MIMP authorize a new two-lane road to the Ocean Garage? 4. Was the road next to the proposed North Garage (further north on the property) intended to be a new perimeter road? Was the designation on the MIMP map a reference to fire and emergency access? Since the Hospital has relied extensively on the 2010 MIMP and the intent of the 2010 MIMP as the justification for the Proposal, the SAC has no choice but to review the underlying document that were approved by the Seattle City Council. 

I opened my front door and it was like being struck by lightning. The light was so intense! So, I took pictures. They don’t really show the “impact” it had on me. I dread this as a constant problem in the future. Also, I worry about the same problem with the new building, yet to be built. I live in the Laurelcrest Condominiums across from the hospital, just off 40th Ave NE (on Terrace Dr. NE) I called the construction number and left a message. They never returned my call. I asked if they could put a coating on the windows that would stop the glare. First two pictures show glare from new windows. The other picture I have enclosed, highlights, the two spotlights from the middle of the crane at night. My neighbors and I have not enjoyed being on our front porch, day or night, for a very long time. I ate outside, on it, just once this summer. I think the vertical shaft of the crane could have been aptly lit, for safety, using the same lights that were used for the horizontal beam. The crane comes down this weekend. I understand a new smaller crane will go up. Maybe, it is just to dismantle the larger one. It is unclear to me whether the smaller one will stay. Of course, there is the constant noise (and probably dust) six days a week.  

My concerns are: - the livability of the neighborhood will be greatly denigrated with the current plan - the height of the buildings need to be reduced - the parking structures should be underground or greatly sunken - ALL access to the hospital needs to be limited to Sandpoint Way ONLY - the current hospital roads need to be retained - materials used should not be reflective - the buffers should be green, wide and dense with all heritage trees retained - the site of the new buildings need to be lower on the hill. 

Construction trucks will enter Hospital property from NE 45th Street and other entry points near homes. The Hospital’s Addendum projects up to16 truck trips per hour or approximately one truck trip every 3 to 4 minutes. Full disclosure and analysis is required on how such high truck volumes will affect access in and 2 out of Laurelhurst on NE 45th Street and will affect the entire community (including traffic, noise, pollution, and safety).   

We are very concerned for the lighting of structures this close to the neighborhood. 6. The impacts from cutting down over 100 mature trees that are protected by the City’s own tree ordinance and not replacing them with trees in kind. Just preparing an Addendum to the EIS is not adequate. The City should require the Hospital to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that fully analyzes the range of adverse environmental impacts from this proposal. How is it appropriate to rely on a 2008 EIS that is twelve years old, limited in its analysis, and that does not reflect the impacts from the proposed 2020 construction projects?   

The new surgery pavilion would be at the east upper end of the site very close to 44th Ave NE. The building would be visible but also there would be glare, lights at night and mechanical noise very close to homes in our area-particularly on 44th Ave NE, 45th Ave NE, NE 47th St. There is no need for it to be in this location. The pavilion should be moved downhill closer to Sandpoint Way. The parking garage is to be above ground (it should be underground possibly under the surgery pavilion) and Penny Lane (the main road into the hospital) would be rerouted close to 44th AVE NE in what is supposed to be the 75 foot buffer green zone. This would add to the noise. During construction, there would be an exit from the present Whale Garage on NE45th St. which would lead to a major traffic back-up on NE 45th St from the exit to Sandpoint Way. Drivers would be forced to choose alternatives routes to Sandpoint Way which would turn 45th Ave NE, 46th Ave NE and 47th Ave NE into major arterials. Furthermore, there would be a construction entrance near 44th Ave NE and NE47th St, for 40 months (3 years and 4 months!) which would allow for constant truck traffic directly into our neighborhood. This in itself is completely unacceptable. It is not safe for the many children in the area. Laurelhurst School is 2 blocks from this exit point. As previously explained it would turn our streets into major roadways which is not what they are zoned as and this is not the environment we chose to live in when we bought in the area. To be clear, we are a neighborhood and a community. We are not a commercially zoned area. It is, in fact, unusual for a hospital to be located in such a residential area. We tolerate the sound of construction that has gone on for years, delivery truck arriving in the middle of the night, car alarms going off, the hum of the machinery and of course the helicopter landings that appear to be on the increase. But enough is enough. When the hospital proposed their last expansion, which eventually resulted in the Major Institution Master Plan (MIMP), they initially acted very aggressively lacking consideration for neighbors as they are behaving now. It took several years to come to a decent compromise which was that the hospital construction was limited to building downhill near Sandpoint Way. The construction traffic remained on the west (Sandpoint) side of the hospital and we felt that the hospital finally acknowledged that it was necessary to respect the livability of our neighborhood. But once again they are ignoring this. 

We propose these alternatives: 1) Build the garage underground with the surgery pavilion on top, all downhill close to Sandpoint Way. 2) Any construction entrance would be a new entrance on Sandpoint Way, west of Penny Lane. 3) All construction and building would be kept on the west side and no traffic would be allowed to exist on NE45th St or 44Ave NE. Also I hope that the hospital will not do a replay of their public relations campaign during the last request for expansion, which attempted to vilify anyone objecting to their expansion designs. We all support the excellent quality health care that they provide. As I mentioned in my first letter, our son has autism and has received wonderful help. We donate annually. But this has nothing to do with the hospital expansion plans and should not be any part of the discussion. 

We live on 45th Ave NE and have been present through various stages of construction. When the Whale parking lot on the east side was built we were subjected to months and months of noise, trucks barreling down our street and traffic congestion on our street and on NE 45th St. With the next stage of construction, after a long hard fight to protect our neighborhood, Seattle Children’s Hospital compromised and built downhill, buying and building on the Laurelon condominium complex land. Construction was kept downhill and it appeared that the hospital really respected our concerns and our need to live in a peaceful community and neighborhood. This was a very good compromise and well appreciated and we had minimal disturbances from the construction. But getting to this stage was far from easy as the public relations department at the hospital developed a “Friends of Children’s” campaign meant to malign anyway who objected the expansion of the hospital as proposed. The disagreement also involved a court case with the hospital administration and lawyers using patients as props to push for the need of approval of their specific design. Fortunately it all ended with a decent compromise as mentioned. I hope that a reasonable compromise can be reached on the next phase without the previous contentions and complications, with a compromise including an underground parking garage, keeping heights as low as possible, building downhill rather than near 44thAve NE and maintaining the 75’ greenway as green space. 

I am writing to insist that the City require a Supplementary EIS to examine the impacts of this expanded construction. From routine reading of the posted notice boards and other materials during the ongoing construction, it was not possible to get an idea of this newly disclosed additional construction. The use of neighborhood streets for delivery trucks, the removal of barrier screening vegetation, and the greatly increased height of the parking garage, all increase the severe impacts on the neighbors and neighborhood. A rigorous supplemental EIS would require SCH to consider the impacts and to discuss less intrusive alternatives.  

 My house is just on the other side of those trees to the right of the photo off a typical road in our single-family neighborhood) On Friday, October 2nd and on Monday, October 5th, the Hospital commissioned a crew to drill borings in the north parking lot of Children’s Hospital across the street from my house. The sound was extremely loud, like the sound of someone drilling and breaking up concrete. I am working at home. My oldest daughter is in high school and my youngest daughter in elementary school. They are in remote learning. We were all subjected to high levels of noise that caused headaches and severely impacted our health and well-being for those two days. I can’t imagine what it will be like with the construction project for Project Copper since it will be for over three years. I understand that the Addendum to the EIS for Project Copper is predicting that construction noise will exceed levels allowed by the Seattle Noise ordinance. This is unacceptable. The hospital must prepare a Supplemental EIS, commission a full noise impact study and install appropriate noise mitigation methods that do not negatively impact the neighbors to the east of the Hospital campus.

The public can continue to submit comments to SDCI via or 206-684-0302. 

A neighbor added that:

The community should submit comments right away about the changes in the  project #3036201-LU as it is proposed from its original footprint, and about the impacts it would have on nearby residences' quality of life. If these impacts and changes are perceived as significant, neighbors should also request that SDCI require a Supplemental EIS to be performed which conducts a neutral and more rigorous study on the project.

Public comments should be submitted to  to or 206-684-0302. 

On December 3rd live public comments will be heard.

All public comments are here

Here is a recording of Wednesday's SAC meeting (password zCY3GjEM)

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