Sound Transit committee passes on facility opinion

The Sound Transit Capital Committee agreed new information likely won't surface in the next two weeks to ease a decision on where an operations and maintenance facility should be located on the Eastside, and opted not to forward a preferred alternative to the full board on Thursday.

Four site alternatives are on the table for an operations and maintenance satellite facility to accommodate an increase in fleet vehicles ahead of the 2023 East Link light rail extension — three in Bellevue and one in Lynwood.

The Capital Committee had been directed to select a preferred alternative Thursday for the Sound Transit Board to consider at its July 24 meeting, which will guide completion of a final environmental impact statement and final site decision. Instead, committee members voted unanimously to pass on making a recommendation.

"I just think we've got to do better than what we've got right now," said Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, who serves on the transit board. "… What we're being asked to do is simply accept one of those sites."

Paul Roberts, vice chairman to the transit board and Everett city councilmember, told the committee none of the site alternatives are ideal, but the Lynwood option should be removed from consideration as it is more expensive and "does not meet the needs of the system."

The Edmonds School District in Lynwood has long rejected the alternative as it would negatively affect its campus expansion plans, set to break ground in 2015. Stewart Mhyre, executive director of business and operations at ESD, was joined by Lynwood Mayor Nicola Smith in voicing opposition again on Thursday.

Three Bellevue options — two between the Eastside Rail Corridor and 120th Avenue Northeast and one over the top of Plaza 520 south of State Route 520 — also lacked support during public comments Thursday.

Lincoln Vander Veen for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce said the organization and a multitude of local business leaders are united with the city in its opposition of all three alternatives here. He said a facility in the rail corridor is expected to result in an annual loss of $1 million in tax revenue. The displacement of more than 100 businesses under the 520 option is estimated at a $6 million annual loss.

The city states siting a maintenance facility in the Eastside Rail Corridor will hamper the city's redevelopment plans for the Bel-Red Corridor, which includes a $2.4 billion investment in the high-density, mixed-use Spring District.

Greg Johnson, president for Wright Runstadt, told the board he'd recently met with the chairman of a major company interested in relocating 5,000 employees to the Spring District. The conversation soured when the uncertainty of a maintenance facility came up, he said.

"He said, 'That'd be crazy. I thought this was going to be a transit-oriented neighborhood,' " Johnson said, adding there was nothing he could say to ease the potential investor's mind. "I haven't gotten a call back." Johnson is also chairman of the Urban Land Institute’s Seattle District Council.

John Hempelmann, former chairman for the Quality Growth Alliance, said the organization is a strong supporter of light rail and walkable areas near transit.

"That's the future of the region. That's how we must grow," Hempelmann said, adding he's seen how other major transit systems operate. "I have never seen any of those systems site a maintenance yard, let alone a 26-acre maintenance facility, within a few blocks of a major walkshed." The Capital Committee discussed whether it should recommend pushing a decision on a preferred alternative back another month, which King County Council Vice Chairman Joe McDermott said he didn't believe would cause a significant delay for the project.

"Another month leads to another month, and I'm not interested in that," said Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling and transit board member.

Even after the Sound Transit Board selects a preferred alternative, it will be more than a year before the environmental impact statement is completed and a final site decision is made, said Ric Ilgenfritz, executive director of planning, environment and project development for Sound Transit.

Balducci suggested the board work to incorporate into its July 24 decision recommendations on integrating a maintenance facility into existing land uses from the Urban Land Institute.

"Every one of these sites has serious impacts associated with it, and yet we must find a way," she said.


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