Over the last year or so, we’ve covered the parking situation in the Northgate station area as it has evolved, consistently advocating against the use of scarce transit dollars to build parking in urban areas. Unfortunately, the situation is becoming more complex, not less, as time goes on and more details come to light, and in a pair of posts, I’m going to examine all the issues and possible solutions I’m aware of in depth. There are three distinct problems Sound Transit must address, and a handful of solutions, most of which involve ST building a parking garage and some (rather tenuous) ones which don’t.
First, let’s take a look at all 1,500 or so parking stalls currently provided, by public agencies, to transit users in the Northgate area. Below is a map of the area (from the recent Capital Committee presentation), showing the location and capacity of these lots, followed by a table summarizing all the information related to capacity and displacement, both at the height of construction and at the completion of the project; I’ll talk about the “private uses” section of the table later.
|Metro West Parcel||Surface||Exclusive||289||289||117|
|Metro East Parcel||Surface||Exclusive||464||0||0|
|Northgate Mall Garage||Garage||Shared||280||0||0|
|Parking loss for private uses (not shown on map)|
|Strip Mall *||—||11||2|
Some more detail on those public P&R lots:
- WSDOT Lot: This small lot is squeezed into a strip of land between 1st Ave NE and I-5. It’s probably not viable for development in the foreseeable future, and I don’t think anyone regards its continued use as a parking lot as objectionable.
- Metro East and West Parcels: These surface lots are owned by King County Metro, and bracket the current Transit Center. The west side of the West Parcel will be the site of the future station, and the entire West Parcel will be used during construction. These lots are considered prime for TOD due to their location, and Metro hopes to fund the required rebuilding of the TC by selling development rights to these lots.
- Thornton Place and Northgate Mall: Through partnerships between King County and private developers, transit users have access to certain stalls in these garages during the weekday, in return for Metro subsidizing a third to a half of the cost of construction for those stalls; they are not affected by construction. The Northgate Mall lease will come up for renewal in 2026.
The first issue I’ll discuss is perhaps the most challenging, and least understood.
Parking Loss on Private Property
Suppose you own and reside in a house, and a government agency wants to buy your house to build a public works project. It’s widely understood that the government must pay you fair market value as compensation for the loss of your property. Now suppose you’ve converted this house’s garage to a specialized workshop that’s an integral part of a business with substantial annual revenue. In this case, if the government wants to take your house, not only must you be paid the market value of the house, you are entitled to compensation for lost income due to the taking of your property. This compensation could take many forms, although in that case the agency would probably just offer a comprehensive relocation package to defray the cost of moving. That sort of easy option isn’t available here.
Simon Property Group, which owns the Northgate Mall property, has long-term lease agreements with a number of anchor tenants at the Mall, contracts which stipulate a certain amount of parking be available on the property. In losing parking by way of ST purchasing its property for the station and tail track, or leasing it for construction, SPG will find itself in breach of these contracts, which would lead to a contractual dispute with the tenants, thereby causing SPG to suffer losses due to the taking of its property, in turn creating grounds for a legal claim against ST. (Mall parking is well utilized during periods of high demand, so it can’t be argued that 400+ parking stalls are surplus to requirements). In the worst case (which everyone wants to avoid), ST could be dragged into a complex legal dispute that could create schedule and financial risks for the North Link project.
As I understand it, in addition to the paying purchase or lease price of the land, ST’s options are: to pay compensation to SPG (and perhaps the tenants) for the loss of parking; or to provide replacement parking. The first option is a difficult one, as it’s hard to discern what the value of the lost parking is to SPG or its tenants, and the expense and uncertainty of possibly having to hash out that number in the courts, along with other factors I’ll discuss, is in total, probably more costly to the agency than just building a garage.
To be clear, this outcome is a result of the law related to property takings, and is independent of the North Link Record of Decision (ROD).
* The “strip mall” in this table is, confusingly, a small private retail development called “Northgate Station”. While the same problems arise with the strip mall parking loss as the Northgate Mall, I’m not going to discuss it as the scale of the problem is tiny by comparison.
In Part 2 (tomorrow) I’ll discuss the situation regarding future public P&R capacity, additional bus service as temporary mitigation, the 1:1 replacement stipulation in the North Link ROD, and how these things tie together.