Sound Transit committee removes Lowe’s/Dick’s site from consideration for light rail maintenance facility

Update: Mayor, Dick’s react to decision; estimated costs listed

A Sound Transit Board committee recommended Thursday removal of the Lowe’s/Dick’s Drive-In site in Kent from consideration for a new light rail vehicle maintenance facility.

The System Expansion Committee voted 5-0 to recommend that the full board on May 23 not consider the Lowe’s/Dick’s site. They recommended to advance a site on the former Midway Landfill in Kent and two sites in Federal Way for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement study. Once that study is done, the board will pick a preferred site – potentially in late 2020 – for the Operations and Maintenance Facility, which is scheduled to open in 2026.

King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, also a member of the Sound Transit Board and the System Expansion Committee, made the motion to remove the Lowe’s/Dick’s site.

“I think the argument about transit-oriented development won the day,” Upthegrove said during a phone interview. “The agency and board focus on how light rail can transform a community. You would be wiping out 30 to 50 acres near a light rail station. That resonates broadly with board members, especially with other options available.”

Sound Transit plans to build an elevated light rail passenger station in Kent near 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South, across from Highline College and about one-half mile from South 240th Street. The cities of Kent and Des Moines began work years ago to zone the area for transit-oriented development, to include housing and retail. Those plans would be restricted by a maintenance facility built so close to the Midway area.

Public opinion gathered by Sound Transit at open houses and online heavily opposed a maintenance facility at the Lowe’s/Dick’s site near South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South.

“Public opinion helps and there was strong public opposition to the site,” Upthegrove said. “That’s why we do the public outreach before deciding.”

Seattle-based Dick’s, which just opened in December, helped organize opposition to the site. But Upthegrove, whose county District 5 includes Kent’s West Hill, said that didn’t carry as much weight with other committee members or himself as the impact to limit transit-oriented development.

“With or without Dick’s Drive-In, the site would have been removed,” he said. “It’s close to the light rail station is the strongest argument. It’s a win for my constituents who love the burger stand, but other issues resonated beyond our community.

“We value that business in South King County. But for Pierce County, whether a restaurant is moved is not as important. The board members do realize transit-oriented development is about benefiting communities.”

System Expansion Committee Chair Claudia Balducci, also a King County councilmember, agreed with the removal of the Lowe’s/Dick’s site from consideration.

“As we grapple with the challenges of runaway housing costs, our growing climate crisis, and ever-present traffic congestion, transit-oriented development will prove to be indispensable in our region,” Balducci said. “I commend Dave for effectively and passionately advocating for his community, while ensuring we meet the vision for the future transit oriented development at Kent/Des Moines Station.”

Mayor, Dick’s welcome decision

Jasmine Donovan, president of Dick’s Drive-In, certainly appreciated the vote.

“We’re grateful to Councilmember Upthegrove, Chair Balducci and the entire committee for listening to the feedback from the community and protecting the long term vision of Kent and DesMoines for the area around the Kent light rail station,” Donovan said in an email after the vote.

Donovan said Dick’s had to buy 8 acres in order to get the 2 acres where the restaurant sits. The company plans to sell the rest of the property to developers. Donovan told the committee that it already lost one buyer for the surplus property because of the initial plan to consider the site for a maintenance facility.

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph celebrated the news.

“We did it,” Ralph said on a city of Kent Facebook post. “We got the best decision out of the Sound Transit committee that the Dick’s/Lowe’s site is no longer under consideration for the Operations and Maintenance Facility.”

Ralph thanked city long range planning manager Hayley Bonsteel and city liasion to Sound Transit Kelly Peterson for their work on getting the site off the list. She also thanked Upthegrove and County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer for their efforts to make sure the committee decision happened.

“Everyone grab a burger this weekend and enjoy the sunshine,” Ralph said.

Besides Upthegrove and Balducci, other board members who voted to advance the three sites were Kenmore Mayor David Baker, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling and University Place Mayor Kent Keel. Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards were absent from the committee meeting.

The Operations and Maintenance Facility needs to be done by 2026 to service and store more than 140 light rail vehicles, according to Sound Transit. The facility requires at least 30 acres and would employ an estimated 300. The estimated costs to build the facility range from $750 million at the South 336th Street site to $1.4 billion on the former landfill.

Sound Transit operates an Operations and Maintenance Facility in South Seattle and is building one in Bellevue for the east side extension.

The agency plans to extend light rail from SeaTac to Federal Way by 2024 and from Federal Way to Tacoma by 2030.

Three south sites to move forward:

• Midway Landfill, west of Interstate 5, which has been closed since the 1980s and is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. Estimated cost: $1.3 billion

• South 336th Street near I-5, which is the location of the Christian Faith Center church in Federal Way. Estimated cost: $750 million

• South 344th Street near I-5, which is an industrial area in Federal Way, includes several businesses: Garage Town, which offers private custom storage facility; an RV storage facility; and Ellenos Yogurt Factory. Estimated cost: $800 million

Three south sites removed from the list:

• Lowe’s/Dick’s property at South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South in Kent. Estimated cost: $800 million

• Midway Landfill, east of Pacific Highway South in Kent. Estimated cost: $1.4 billion

• South 316th Street and Military Road South, which includes a neighborhood in unincorporated King County near Steel Lake Park. Estimated cost: $750 million

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