My Thoughts on the New Evergreen ER Clinic at Bella Bottega
by Ray Anspach
In November 2009, I received a City Planning notice about a lot line change involving the vacant one-time Gray Barn Nursery building which is right across the street from me. (File No. L090474, dated 11/25/09) The notice called for moving its western lot line 20 ft to the west. Although it mentions demolition of the existing building and replacement with a new one, no specifics are given nor is any reference made to any other file describing the new building. As near as I could tell, by just eyeballing things, it appeared the lot line move would not impact my Rainier view.
Then in December, the 12/11/09 issue of the Redmond Reporter announced that a new 3-story Evergreen Healthcare Clinic was going in there. Indeed, a check with the City Planning Dept revealed that the new building had already been approved. (File No. L090367, dated 9/23/09) I had no recollection or record of having received such a notice, although I later saw my address on the mailing list. I subsequently obtained a copy of it and nothing in it looked familiar to me. The PROJECT DESCRIPTION simply stated: “REPLACE 12,500 SF RETAIL WITH 35,000 SF MEDICAL OFFICE BLDG.” No mention of a 3-story building. No mention of a clinic.
Next, I received a letter dated 1/7/10, which was a copy of the official transmittal of the City’s approval of the L090474 lot line change. That was followed in February by another notice. (File No. L100011, dated 2/1/10) For the first time—in official City documents that I had received—I am informed that our new “office” building is now referred to as a “clinic” and another story has been added for a new total of four.
By this time, the project had advanced to the point where any opposition would be futile. Even if I had challenged it earlier, it wouldn’t have made any difference. In any contest between a new clinic and me losing my view, I’d be the obvious loser. I accepted that fact and decided to just forget the whole thing. In the meantime, demolition proceeded followed by the start of new construction.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Bob Yoder, publisher of the Redmond Neighborhood Blog (redmondblog.org) who had learned from City records about my earlier inquiries into the project. Although I had made up my mind to let the whole thing go, some interesting pictures on his blog caught my eye. The pictures made me realize that the real issue was much larger than any impact on my own personal view. Redmond was about to lose an important gateway viewpoint.
While contemplating what to do next, Yosemite National Park in California came to mind. Route 41 is the southern entrance to the park. As you approach Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park, you drive through a long tunnel. When you exit the east end of that tunnel, you are treated to one of the most spectacular views in the country, if not the world—El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Bridalveil Fall, and the valley—all in one sweeping panorama. In a word—breathtaking!
Although it may be small potatoes compared to Yosemite, we have our own little tunnel-like exit view right here in Redmond. The first time you see it may not be breathtaking, but there is still a definite “wow-factor” to it. That view is just north of the intersection of Wood-Red Rd and 90th St. As you approach the intersection from the north, you are boxed in by hillsides and trees for almost half a mile. Suddenly, just north of the intersection, things open up and you are treated to a view of downtown, distant foothills, and—on a clear day—Mt Rainier and Little Tahoma Peak. Unfortunately, that viewpoint will soon be blocked by our new 4-story clinic. I think that’s a shame.
To better understand my feelings about this, a little explanation is in order. In case you are not aware, 90th St is the northern boundary of what is defined as downtown. In my research, I discovered that downtown is divided into 12 districts, each having its own unique name and permitted land uses. The district immediately to the south of 90th St is called Valley View. It is roughly bounded on the other three sides by 160th Ave, Wood-Red Rd/164th Ave, and 87th St. The district immediately to the south of it is called Town Square. Its boundaries are roughly defined by 87th St, 160th Ave, 164th Ave, and 80th St.
This makes the northeast corner of Valley View—Wood-Red Rd and 90th St— the major northern gateway to downtown. That tunnel-like exit view, which we are losing, is, to me, an ideal gateway setting. Ironically, the building soon to block that view is itself located in Valley View. In looking at the Code Site Requirements for Valley View, (20C.40.40-045) we see that the listed maximum building height is 2 stories. However, next to that “2”, there is reference to a note 10 that permits, under certain circumstances, the limit to be increased to 4. (Information in the files on this project even allowed a fifth story. This is due to the fact that the first floor of the new building is located several feet below the local street level.) This doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you’d want to do in a district called Valley View. As the years go by, the loss of this viewpoint will become of even greater significance, as you’ll see in a moment.
Recall that Town Square is directly to the south of Valley View. You may be unaware, as I was until I started digging into this, that this district will someday be the heart of downtown. This is where our highest of high-rises, up to 8 stories, will go. (That doesn’t include any roof-installed equipment, which could be the equivalent of another story.) The City is required by state law to absorb a certain amount of population growth, and it is trying to accommodate much of that growth in the downtown area rather than by creating more urban sprawl on the City’s fringes. Picture what it will look like in 10 or 20 years. It will have become a sort of "Bellevue-lite". This is to be expected when living in a large metropolitan area; however, such skylines can have a beauty of their own. As a matter of fact, I’m guessing the clinic’s top man/woman will have their office on the south side of the fourth floor. If I was running the place, that’s where I’d want mine! But, our current tunnel-like exit viewpoint of all this will be no more.
How could something so inconsistent with the intent of the City’s Comprehensive Plan have happened? Was there something different about the way this particular project was handled? Is there a flaw in the general land use approval process? It appears to me to be a little of each. Although not much can be done at this stage of the game for this project—but keep reading—still, to me, it’s a wake-up call for future projects.
In the “particular project” category, these questions come to mind:
• Why was the term “medical office”, rather than “clinic”, used in the original application?
• Why was the relatively abstract term “SF” (square feet) used in the original application instead of “3-story building”, which is much more descriptive?
• Why was the building approved prior to submitting the application for the lot line change? This seems backwards. There was a mailing list of only 344 for the new building, but 480 for the benign-sounding lot line change. By doing it this way, those in the larger group that hadn’t been notified as to the nature of the new building were powerless to stop it since it was literally waiting in the wings, already approved, with the appeal date having long since passed. If I understand all of this correctly, it just isn’t right.
As for the process in general, I did a little survey of Meadowview Village owners, where I live, to see if they had received the initial L090367, 9/23/09 notice, which I, and a few others I talked to, hadn’t. Out of a total of 163 units, about 100 email inquiries were sent out. (Not everybody has email.) Out of that 100, I received 34 responses, which consisted of the following:
• Didn’t recall receiving it – 15
• Received it and had no problem with it – 8
• Too long ago and weren’t sure if they received it or not – 6
• Didn’t live here then – 3
• Received it, had a problem with it, but took no action – 2
Now, 21 out of 34 people, that’s 62 %, either did not recall getting the notice or weren’t sure if they did or not. This seems to me a fairly high percentage. I’m thinking one of the reasons for this might be the way the envelopes were addressed. Rather than being sent to a specific name, they were generically addressed to “Current Occupant”. It’s easy to see why they do it this way, people move, addresses don’t. Unfortunately, that’s the sort of mail a lot of us tend to ignore. The, “If it’s not addressed directly to me, it can’t be that important!” assumption obviously doesn’t apply here. This problem could be mitigated by changing “Current Occupant “to “Current Owner” and conspicuously identifying the envelope as containing official City Planning information that could impact the owner. Something like that would be much more likely to attract attention.
The other thing I think could stand improvement is the Land Use Action notices posted at the project sites. We’ve all seen these 8-1/2” x 11” sheets—usually as we are driving by. It sure beats a classified ad sized notice, and it technically fills the requirement for proper public notification. But, why not make life a little easier for us and put up a sign big enough to give us an inkling of what the project is, along with a phone number or Internet contact for more information. That way we can find out what’s going on without getting out in the rain or having to find a place to park, or both.
After all this rambling, it all comes down to one thing—we are where we are. So, what’s next? It’s much easier to criticize than it is to offer a solution, but I have an idea for consideration that would at least make me feel a little better. Hopefully, it would do the same for others. Before I say what it is, I want to mention that I like the architecture of the new building. I think it’s a nice looking structure with that extended southwest corner. Thank heaven it isn’t one of those pent roof style buildings. Every time I see one of those things, regardless of how big it is, two words pop into my head—chicken coop. Just can’t help it.
Remember that “wow-factor” I used to describe our tunnel-like exit view? Since we won’t have it any more, how about moving the wow-factor to the building? Obviously the building is going to dominate that corner. How about adding something artsy to it? What might that be? Well, a few things crossed my mind: (1) Hanging Gardens as in Babylon; (2) a waterfall—think Lincoln Square in Bellevue; (3) a silhouette-type metal sculpture—a big one—depicting the natural wow-factor view that we’ve lost. Items (1) and (2) might be a little pricey, but (3), well, that seems doable. Now, something like that would make the building much more gateway-worthy. After all, it will be depriving us of something which was of much greater magnitude as we headed into downtown.
One last thing. I have some good news and some bad news regarding my personal situation. The good news is that the steel is going up and it looks as though my Rainier view is going to survive the Evergreen Clinic building. The bad news is that the trees are destroying it. Ironically, they are also going to block much of the clinic from my view. The final irony, which was appreciated even by the 8-year old daughter of my neighbors from the UK, is that some of the trees are evergreens.
By Ray Anspach
This correspondence was emailed to the City of Redmond.