County listens on hospital land plan

Five members of the Metropolitan King County Council listened for nearly three hours last Thursday, March 20, as residents of the Snoqualmie Valley and other Eastside communities shared their thoughts on proposed changes to the county's comprehensive plan.

County Council members Larry Gossett, Jane Hague, Larry Phillips and Reagan Dunn joined District 3 councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents the Valley. The group included members of the council's Growth Management and Natural Resources Committee, which will make its recommendation on the comprehensive plan update this summer.

"We will be the ones making some of the final decisions," said Lambert, who asked the many residents who signed up to avoid beating around the bush.

"What you say is going to be very important," she said. "Please be very direct. Say 'this is what we need changed,' so we can make those changes. This is your community, and we want to be doing the things that you need to keep this community what it is."

Officials speak

Most Valley speakers centered on the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, which is being required to set aside four acres of land from development for every acre it wants to develop on its new campus at the Snoqualmie Parkway freeway interchange. The requirements are being proposed as a pilot program under the comprehensive plan changes.

Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson spoke first, challenging the pilot program of "Transfer of Development Rights," or TDR.

As mayor, "you can distill my responsibility down to three fundamental things that I have a sworn duty to uphold, and that is the health, safety and welfare of the community." Few projects, he said, address all those concerns at the same time more "than the project that's been proposed here."

Larson spoke on how the hospital project makes possible "powerful synergies" such as a Bellevue Community College medical studies campus, Encompass child learning center, senior living, affordable housing, and lodging for guests in the Valley for community events such as the TPC golf classic held each summer.

"If this proposal should unravel due to these burdens," he added, "these properties will become available" to developers, or could be purchased by the Snoqualmie Tribe, which is currently negotiating for the hospital's existing campus as a Native American wellness center.

"The bottom line is, our partnership with the college is going to be gone, our partnership with the City and Tribe is going to not exist," said Dick Jones, Snoqualmie Valley Hospital board president and commissioner for King County Hospital District No. 4.

Hospital opposition

Several speakers urged the county to keep the TDR requirement and take a critical look at the hospital's plans.

"I'm in favor of keeping the four-to-one TDR, for reasons of affordability," said Fall City resident William Cleaver. "The hospital plans are beautiful and grandiose, but are they affordable?"

Cleaver and other speakers noted that Swedish Medical Center is opening a 175-bed facility in Issaquah.If the Swedish hospital gets going at Issaquah, even if the county changes the TDR ruling for Snoqualmie, "I think we're going to have some empty buildings on the site," he said.

"If the object is to increase the density of metropolitan areas and preserve the low density of rural answers, there's the answer," said Gene Pollard of Snoqualmie, referring to the new Swedish facility at Issaquah. "But this hospital has done everything it could to block Swedish from building its hospital."

Pollard argued that residents already weighed in on the new hospital campus, in last summer's failed levy lid lift for the hospital district.

"To me, traffic is the Achilles heel of the whole project," said Snoqualmie resident Michael Peterson.

"Traffic issues should be considered by the county and state before passing the point of no return and getting into expensive consequences," Peterson said.

"This is the wrong location for this concept," he added. "It's urban sprawl."

Campus support

In the three years that hospital employee Linda Meek has worked at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, "we've had 715 patients that have been transferred from the emergency room to other hospitals because we did not have the facilities or the equipment necessary to treat them past stabilization.

"These patients should have been able to receive adequate care in the hospital of their choice," she said. "And yet, this pilot program would block the possibility of a larger new hospital, because of it being commercial development. Since when is a non-profit, public hospital a commercial development? That means we're in the same boat as Wal-Mart or Home Depot."

"You're making a decision about our lives here," North Bend resident Debby Peterman told the Council members. "I would ask each of you [to] spend a day, an hour, to see what is actually out here, to get to know us."

"We need more health services, we need more for our kids, for our seniors," she said. "This hospital campus is a community benefit."

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