The Kent City Council unanimously passed an emergency zoning ordinance Tuesday night to prohibit Sound Transit from building a 30-acre transit operations and maintenance facility for light rail cars on a West Hill site that would remove Lowe’s, Dick’s Drive-In and other businesses.
Mayor Dana Ralph said Sound Transit officials just revealed plans to city staff in November about the agency’s potential sites for the facility, including three locations in Kent, two in Federal Way and one in unincorporated King County. Lowe’s sits at the southeast corner of South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South.
The council began plans more than 10 years ago to rezone the Midway area along Pacific Highway South to allow transit-oriented development, such as retail, offices and residential uses. Sound Transit plans to start construction in fall 2019 on the 7.8-mile light rail extension to Federal Way from SeaTac, including two light rail stations in Kent, and finish the project in 2024. The agency plans to extend the line to the Tacoma Dome by 2030.
“The whole (Midway) area is primed for high-density, mixed-use development including residential,” said Councilman Dennis Higgins prior to the vote. “It’s certainly not what we had in mind to put in some big 30-acre train yard.
“It’s inconceivable that a public agency for the region would even conceive of doing such a thing in a city like ours. I am so glad we are taking this action. There are so many better alternatives for a rail maintenance yard than in the middle of an area that the community has a dream of re-envisioning.”
Several council members applauded after their 7-0 vote to approve the zoning change.
Ralph said the former Midway Landfill, a 60-acre site just west of Interstate 5 and east of Pacific Highway South between South 246th Street and South 252nd Street, would be an ideal site for the facility. The property is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. The landfill closed in 1983.
“It has been capped and treated and measured and monitored and all of those things required for construction to be done on the property,” Ralph said. “It is a large piece of vacant property that is begging for a use.”
The council will have a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at City Hall about the interim zoning change with plans to make the change permanent. The change prohibits a maintenance facility north of South 245th Street, but allows it south of South 245th Street.
“The action by this council shows a really, really bad choice and what we believe to be a really good choice for the maintenance and operations facility,” Ralph said after the vote as Sound Transit considers the Lowes/Dick’s site and the landfill site. “Kent is not saying we do not want this in our backyard. What we are saying is we’ve got a place that is not appropriate because of a plan that has been done for many, many years, and because we have viable, healthy important businesses to the community in that location.”
Seattle-based Dick’s Drive-In just opened in December on the West Hill, immediately south of Lowe’s. Jasmine Donovan, Dick’s executive vice president, wrote a letter this month to the Sound Transit board to oppose the Lowe’s and Dick’s site. She explained to the board that Dick’s opened about 65 years ago in Seattle and plans to be in Kent just as long.
“On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of customers we’ll serve and thousands of employees we’ll train and help to graduate over the next 65 years, we ask you to please remove the Midway Shopping Center and our brand new and only location in the South Sound from consideration,” Donovan wrote.
Donovan said the company agreed with a letter sent to the board from Ralph, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias in support of the former landfill site.
Ralph said she has asked Sound Transit to take the Lowe’s site off the list, but the agency has yet to remove it.
“I am committing to this council and the community to do everything in my power to get this site off the list,” she said.
Ralph said the city will work with Sound Transit to use the former landfill site for its operations and maintenance shop. The facility would bring in about 300 jobs to Kent, according to city staff.
Sound Transit has a light rail Operations and Maintenance Facility in Seattle, 3407 Airport Way S., and began construction last year on a new facility in Bellevue to handle light rail cars on the Eastside expansion. The agency and Bellevue City Council debated about proposed sites before the Sound Transit Board in 2014 picked a BNSF Railway site.
The ST3 package approved by voters in 2016 included funds for a new maintenance and operations facility for the south (Tacoma Dome) corridor as part of 116-mile regional light rail system, said Scott Thompson, Sound Transit public information officer, in an email Wednesday.
Sound Transit will begin an environmental process this spring to review sites and get stakeholder and public comment before the board picks finalist sites to undergo environmental impact statements (EIS).
“The EIS will take up to two years to complete and then the Sound Transit Board will select the site/location,” Thompson said.
Ralph said she wants to be sure the Lowe’s site doesn’t move into the EIS process because it would leave business owners in doubt for two years about what might happen to their property.
The agency initially looked at 20 sites – starting last spring – and has narrowed the list to six sites, according to city of Kent staff:
• Lowe’s property South 240th Street and Pacific Highway (Kent)
• Midway Landfill, two potential sites on the property, west of I-5 between South 246th and 252nd (Kent) and east of Pacific Highway South
• South 316th Street and Military Road South (unincorporated King County)
• South 336th Street near I-5 (Federal Way)
• South 344th Street near I-5 (Federal Way)
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correctly show where the Midway Landfill is located.