Council pushes back on transit maintenance facility locations

Bellevue councilmembers are continuing to urge Sound Transit to consider siting its large operations and maintenance satellite facility meant for servicing its East Link light rail fleet outside of the city's Bel-Red corridor to prevent what they see as severe impacts to the redevelopment area.

With Sound Transit still eyeing 2023 to launch its expanded East Link service, the transit agency states its SODO maintenance facility is too small to handle the additional fleet of about 180 vehicles, and is now proposing several site alternatives in Bellevue — three in the Bel-Red corridor — and Lynwood. It began its 45-day public comment period through June 23 and plans to identify a preferred site on July 24.

An option to construct an operations and maintenance facility in Bellevue between the Eastside Rail Corridor and 120th Avenue Northeast — south of SR-520 — was determined to be the cheapest of the alternatives. It would take up about 23 of the 27 acres on the site, leaving four acres for redevelopment. Due to zoning, Sound Transit would require a conditional use permit for this alternative. There is also a modified version of this plan.

Councilmembers told Sound Transit staff Monday that alternatives cutting through the Bel-Red corridor and utilizing Burlington Northern-Santa Fe will have negative economic impacts as redevelopment — including the Spring District project — continues in the area. The BNSF alternative in question would displace 14 businesses and is inconsistent with current zoning, but also would have the least impact on natural resources and be the least expensive to construct.

The city worked hard with Sound Transit to allow light rail into Bellevue, said councilmembers, but proposing a massive facility that would impact transit oriented development around light rail violates the planning that has been done. Councilmember John Chelminiak said a "50-acre parking lot doesn't make sense" in areas slated for transit oriented development and that Sound Transit needs to "take a step" back and reassess its options.

A modified proposal by Sound Transit to split the facility in half on the east and west sides of the BNSF railway corridor with a 200-foot buffer didn't strike the council as being any better, as that option will displace 25 businesses and require relocating the city's public safety training center. Both of these options at 120th Avenue Northeast would utilize the old International Paper corrugated container plant site, which Sound Transit purchased last year.

Another proposal to site the facility south of State Route 520, at the corner of Northeast 20th Street and 130th Avenue Northeast would displace 101 businesses and negatively impact future tax revenues.

Councilmembers pressed Sound Transit staff to look closer at its Lynnwood option, which would be north on Interstate 5 and east of 52nd Avenue West. Michael Williams, director of Sound Transit's Office of Light Rail Development, said difficulties with that option include having to shorten service hours and coming to an agreement with the Edmonds School District, which is planning facility improvements in the same area the transit agency is assessing and is likewise opposed to the idea. Williams added the Lynnwood site would mean an additional $3 million operations cost per year for Sound Transit.

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson said more than $6 million in city tax revenue is estimated to be lost annually through either of the two options that would put the maintenance facility at the International Paper site. Wright Runstad, which is leading development of the Spring District, also has come out in opposition to using the International Paper site.

"It doesn't belong there," Robertson told the Reporter, adding if Sound Transit can't be flexible, "This could affect the next phase of the (memorandum of understanding)."

Sound Transit will host a public hearing at 5-7:30 p.m. June 5 at the Coast Bellevue Hotel, the results of which will be shared with the City Council.


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