Kent zoning change bans King County Metro bus facility from proposed site

Agency still plans to pursue Valley property

King County Metro plans to pursue a Kent site for potential base for 250 electric buses despite a recent land use zoning change by the City Council to ban such a facility.

King County Metro announced last week one site in Kent and two in Auburn that will be studied as possible locations for a 30-acre site to service the buses and open by 2030.

The Kent site at the southwest corner of South 196th Street and 68th Avenue South would not allow a transit operations and maintenance facility under the new zoning ordinance that becomes effective July 4.

“Yes, we had been tracking the temporary ordinance and were aware of the move to make it permanent,” said Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer in a Monday email. “Our interest is to continue to work with the city of Kent, and if the opportunity was available we would participate in any city-led planning processes in the Valley as we conduct our analysis of possible bus base facilities.

“A South King County location will enable Metro to provide more efficient service to current and future routes and contribute to the physical, environmental and economic health of nearby communities. The long-range plan to increase base capacity – and thereby transit service – will give people convenient alternatives to driving alone and will contribute to the region’s efforts to address our climate crisis.”

The council adopted an emergency ordinance in January to help stop Sound Transit from building a light rail vehicle operations and maintenance facility on the West Hill near a new Dick’s Drive-In and other businesses. The council made that ordinance permanent with a June 4 vote. Sound Transit picked two sites in Federal Way and the former Midway Landfill in Kent as potential sites for the facility, scheduled to open in 2026 after the light rail is extended 7.8-miles from SeaTac to Federal Way.

But that change also applied to many other areas of Kent, including the Valley industrial area as city leaders try to curtail large warehouses and numerous trucks (or buses) wearing out the city roads.

“The one site in Kent recently identified by King County Metro is zoned M1 (industrial park district) and therefore the proposed use would not be permitted,” said Kurt Hanson, city economic and community development director, in an email last week.

Kent would only allow the facility in a CM-2 (commercial manufacturing) district, which is limited to just a few areas of town.

“As far as the city’s location preference, I would say that if the proposal also included a mix of uses and included superior site design the city of Kent would be open to the use within our jurisdiction,” Hanson said about a bus base.

City leaders also recently passed interim legislation to limit the number of large warehouses in the Valley. That restriction also applies to the property at South 196th Street and 68th Avenue South. Tukwila-based Segale Properties, which owns the vacant land, did not respond to an email from the Kent Reporter for comment about the proposed bus base or the city ban against such a facility.

“Our consultants have made contact with property owners of each site,” Metro’s Switzer said. “They know that their properties are being considered by Metro for a future base.”

When asked whether Metro would try to overturn the city’s land use change in court, Switzer replied the agency wants to talk with Kent to help find a site.

“Our interest is focused on working with the City of Kent as we consider where a bus base should be built in South King County, with the goal of improving transit operations to support the health and mobility options of riders,” Switzer said.

Metro also is considering two sites in Auburn at South 277th Street and D Street Northeast and at 37th Street Northwest and B Street Northwest.

King County Metro’s seven existing bus bases are over capacity and unable to meet the increased service needs for the growing region. The agency’s plan calls for adding bus base capacity in strategic locations like South King County, and estimates it would cost about $480 million to purchase a site, build and open the base.

Metro and a team of consultants completed an initial land search in early 2019, identifying and evaluating 20 potential properties in South King County. Of those 20 sites, three were selected for further evaluation based in part on size, shape, topography and access to major arterials and highways.

Metro will conduct outreach to communities and organizations near the three sites to gather input on opportunities and challenges associated with a proposed facility. The sites also will undergo rigorous technical analysis and extensive environmental review as required by state and federal laws, as well as other studies that could influence Metro’s decision on a final site.

Throughout the process during the next several years, Metro plans to stay in touch with the community and keep the public informed of progress and milestones. Sign up for project updates at kingcounty.gov/metro/bases.

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