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Residents want Sound Transit held to strict standards

Holding a red streamer of crepe paper high above the Bellevue City Council chamber room Monday night, Renay Bennett, joined by two more neighbors, showcased the 30 foot buffer proposed by Sound Transit for the space between the East Link line and private residences, really is.

“There's more setback between my teenager's room and my kitchen,” said Bennett. “Thirty feet is not enough of a setback to address the visual, safety and noise impacts of a train in front of people's homes.”

It was a presentation deputy mayor Jennifer Robertson later called illuminating. In the nearly three hour public hearing that followed, many residents echoed Bennett's concern about noise, traffic, granting permits and the need to uphold strict city standards.

When East Link wraps construction in 2023, it will pass through at least 20 different land use districts. To account for a code developed years before light rail was planned for the Eastside, council has been reviewing and revising its land use code in a series of meetings that began last October. The new section, the land use code “overlay,” will inform future permit processes, development and design standards as the project moves forward.

More than 20 people spoke, most from the Enatai and Surrey Downs neighborhoods, whose homes would be most affected by the light rail route. Many residents complained that they didn't feel they'd been given adequate time to review a deeply complicated document.

Brooks Beaupain of the Enatai Neighborhood Association said that the current overlay looked much the same as the October draft with a lax code and broad authority still granted to Sound Transit. He said the draft failed to address basic concerns raised since 2009, like noise, loss of trees during construction and traffic standards.

“These amendments have broad and, at this time, unforeseeable consequences,” said Beaupain. “...The light rail project has been voted on and we accept it, now we hope you implement it in a manner that's respectful and appropriate to the areas of the city it affects.”

Susan Ilvanakis noted that assumptions about the code's application to adjacent land reminded her of old airline policies that assumed smoking on planes could be contained to only a few rows. Impact, she said, would not just be on the tracks, but in the radius around it.

Others touched on the need to maintain city control over the permit process and the full and partial property acquisitions required by Sound Transit. Among the proposed changes would be the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) to ensure that design and development standards were vetted by the public. The city has emphasized that the proposed amendment would not relax development or mitigation standards for Sound Transit.

A Sound Transit representative also spoke, expressing his support for the amendments.

“The uncertainty is driving people absolutely crazy,” said Councilmember John Chelminiak. “We heard that tonight and it's time to start putting some certainty on this and telling people where this is going to go, so that we can have exact drawings and exact representations of how this is going to affect people.”

The council began reflection on public comments after the hearing closed. Members asked for further adjustments, like a more comprehensive look at the possibility of a 50-foot setback, a review of the city's existing noise law and a strengthening of language indicating that ST would be responsible for maintenance.

The council will meet again Feb. 19. Final action is expected before the end of the month.

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