City of Kent says drop park as transit parking garage site

Kent city officials plan to recommend to Sound Transit staff that Kaibara Park be dropped as a potential site for a new parking garage for train commuters.

The downtown city park combined with a portion of the King County Library parking lot made a list of four alternative sites released last month by Sound Transit for a 450-stall garage to be built at a cost of $33 million by 2023 near the Kent Sounder Station.

But city staff determined after further study of the site that the city doesn’t even own the park property. Kent leases the property from BNSF Railway.

“Ownership is more complicated than we thought,” said city planner Danielle Butsick in a report April 10 to the City Council’s Economic and Community Development Committee. “Because of that and a complicated lease. … We can’t even find documentation of the lease it’s such an old agreement, we recommend to remove the site from the list of top four.”

Butsick said it’s also not an ideal site because the property is so narrow. The small park, which features a pond, garden and art pieces, sits along First Avenue North near West Meeker Street. It is one of the oldest parks in the city and commemorates Kent’s sister city in Japan, now known as Tamba but formerly called Kaibara.

Councilman Jim Berrios asked Butsick how the property even got on the initial list.

“We recommended it because of council interest in a building there,” she said. “Sound Transit said it is technically feasible for a garage, but it’s so narrow. There is no room for amenities and the orientation would direct traffic into an area of town not designed for higher traffic flows.”

Butsick said the park has been on the council’s mind the last couple of years with ideas about how to use the site for a building or a parking garage to allow redevelopment of the library site to tie in with Town Square Plaza.

“This was recommended because of interest to develop it,” she said. “It would block sound from trains and make downtown more pleasant in that area.”

At the time of the initial recommendation to include the park site, city staff believed the property was under city ownership, which could make it easier to move the garage project forward if Sound Transit picked that site. But with the updated information, city staff asked the council committee whether it agreed to remove the site from consideration.

Berrios and committee members Tina Budell and Bill Boyce agreed to drop the site from the list.

So far, Sound Transit continues to evaluate Kaibara Park as an option.

“In the next few weeks, Sound Transit staff will be meeting with city of Kent staff, stakeholders and City Council to share evaluation results and to receive feedback on the top four sites,” said Rachelle Cunningham, Sound Transit public information officer, in an email on Monday. “Discussions during this period will determine whether the Kaibara Park site will remain or be removed from further consideration as a potential site for the future parking garage.”

The other three sites include a vacant lot on the north side of James Street and on the east side of the BNSF railroad tracks; the Kent Station surface parking lot south of James Street and west of First Avenue North; and a site combining the cold storage facility and parking lot south of James and west of Railroad Avenue with the Sound Transit-owned surface parking lot south of James and east of Railroad Avenue.

Voters in the Sound Transit district approved an additional parking garage for Kent in 2008 as part of the ST2 package. The Sound Transit board suspended the project in 2010 because of the Great Recession when sales tax revenue for the agency came up shorter than projected. The board restored funding last year for parking garages in Kent and Auburn.

Commuters now park at the Kent Station garage, 301 Railroad Ave. N., which opened in 2001. The garage and surface lot provide 996 parking spaces but spots fill up quickly.

Sound Transit expects to select a site in early 2019 with construction beginning in 2021 and the garage opening in 2023, although officials hope it could be completed sooner.

 

Kaibara Park is the No. 4 alternative site on this map.