Kent city leaders during a Tuesday night workshop bombarded Sound Transit staff with questions about the light rail Operations and Maintenance Facility the agency plans to build at one of six potential sites, including three on the West Hill.
Mayor Dana Ralph and City Council members wanted details about how Sound Transit came up with estimated costs to build the facility on one of two sites at the former Midway Landfill, west of Interstate 5. They also asked the agency to add a couple of more disadvantages to the proposed site at South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South, where Dick’s Drive-In opened in December.
“We are in the very, very early planning stage for this,” said Chelsea Levy, Sound Transit South Corridor development director, at the council workshop. “We are very early in the analysis. We have done less than 3 percent engineering, and a site has not been selected. Much more evaluation information is needed before a site can be selected by the Sound Transit Board.
“The high level of analysis done to date is intended to provide an indication of what sites might be viable and need to be studied further and which sites are not viable. … There are a lot of unanswered questions. We need to learn more. Sound Transit does not have a preferred site. We have a lot more studying to do. At this early stage, there is no ideal site.”
After a public comment period that closes April 1, the Sound Transit Board is expected to decide at its May 23 meeting which sites to move into a draft Environmental Impact Statement phase, which would mean two more years of detailed study.
Sound Transit staff said the Operations and Maintenance Facility needs to be done by 2026 to service and store more than 130 light rail vehicles. The facility requires at least 30 acres and would employ an estimated 300. The agency plans to extend light rail from SeaTac to Federal Way by 2024.
Councilman Dennis Higgins told the agency’s staff it needs to list as a disadvantage to the Lowe’s/Dick’s site that a facility would impact a large, transit-oriented development area. The cities of Kent and Des Moines have planned for retail and housing to be built near the light rail station at 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South, just a short distance from Dick’s.
“What you’re not saying there is what is really key to the future to the city of Kent and that is the ability for people in less than a two-block walk to have housing and business development opportunities, which is what you lose if you put a facility on that site,” Higgins said.
Ralph and Council President Bill Boyce each asked Curvie Hawkins Jr., Sound Transit project development director for the Tacoma Dome Link Extension (from Federal Way to Tacoma by 2030), how the agency came up with the estimated $1.3 billion cost to build the operations facility on the former landfill and $800 million at the Dick’s site.
“There’s got to be a factor you figured in something for property acquisition, can you tell us how you determined the value of that property versus the value of properties at other locations?” Ralph asked.
“We look at neighboring properties, kind of an over-the-fence valuation,” Hawkins said. “What is nearby.”
“So there’s no comparable (similar property) is really the answer to that question,” Ralph responded. “It was based on surrounding property. … That figure is where there is concern about, how you arrived at the value of the property.”
Hawkins explained costs are higher at the landfill site because early analysis shows a 3-foot concrete platform supported by piles that would need to be built for the facility to avoid too much digging into a former landfill, and that could lead to more problems and delay the construction with an additional environmental process.
Ralph and the council again told Sound Transit they want the Operations and Maintenance Facility to be built on the former landfill and not at the Lowe’s/Dick’s site. The council in January adopted an emergency land use zoning change to ban the facility from going up at South 240th Street. Boyce told the agency’s staff that zoning change needs to be listed by the agency as another disadvantage to the Dick’s site.