Lynwood Link Extension Credit: Sound Transit

Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, promised better outreach after residents voiced complaints about the agency’s property acquisition process for the Lynnwood Link Extension during Thursday’s board meeting.

Half a dozen impacted residents from Shoreline urged the board to think about the human cost when displacing residents for the expansion of light rail. Many felt they were being left in the dark and attended the board meeting looking for more information after receiving a letter from Sound Transit indicating their properties were being considered for acquisition.

“We need a lot of information, like when, how soon we can get paid and try to find another place,” said Nancy Treibel, a Shoreline resident. “This came as a terrible shock for us.”

Others worried they would not be able to stay in Shoreline if they are forced to sell their homes to Sound Transit.

“We really need to be made whole again and we not quite sure how that is going to happen,” said Carol Ortiz, a Shoreline resident.

With the booming economy and rising value property values, Ortiz expressed concern about being able to afford a different home in the area if her property was acquired.

Eva Abad, also a Shoreline homeowner impacted by the expansion project, suggested using the Jackson Park Golf Course to temporarily stage construction equipment instead of acquiring properties with homes.

That way no families will be displaced, she added.

Rogoff apologized to residents and pledged to sit down with the homeowners impacted by the project.

“Obviously there needs to be better communication between the agency and the impacted homeowners,” Rogoff said.

Later in the meeting, the board approved the acquisition of 22 parcels the agency says is necessary for the for the Lynnwood Link Extension. The properties are located in Seattle, Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace.

According to Sound Transit documents, $123.8 million was authorized for right-of-way acquisition for the project, of which $53.4 million has already been pledged. The agency estimates the remaining $70.4 million is sufficient to purchase the 22 additional properties or easements needed.

At the August board meeting, the agency announced the project was $500 million over budget and completion of the project would be delayed by six months in an effort to limit those increases.

Also approved by the board Thursday was acquisitions of 51 properties for the Federal Way Link Extension. These properties are located in SeaTac, Des Moines, Kent and Federal Way.

24 Replies to “Sound Transit Offers Olive Branch to Homeowners in Shoreline”

  1. Section 4(f) of the DOT Act would put the kibosh on using Jackson Park as a staging area – the law is very clear that parks and recreational facilities may only be used de minimis as part of constructing or operating transportation projects, and it doesn’t look like there’s any place they could stage equipment that wouldn’t impact the geometry of the golf course. You can use parkland if you have no other reasonable and prudent alternatives, but the law would consider acquiring the 22 residential properties a reasonable and prudent alternative.

    For more info:

  2. Are these parcels for the line and stations or extra property takings for construction staging? Is this a new batch in addition to what these neighborhoods were originally notified of before the FEIS was issued?

    1. I watched the meeting online and got the impression that at least one of the parcels was a taking that would only be for temporary construction parking storage and later become an excess ST property. This is one of the loopholes in our eminent domain statutes that needs to be corrected in that ultimately you have a property being transferred from a private party, to another private party in the end.

      I also got the impression that some of the properties were new since the Lynnwood Link FEIS. I believe the total number of parcels has increased since the earlier phase gate.

      1. Watching now, too. This is extremely stupid on Sound Transit’s part. It sounds like none of these people were notified until 2-3 weeks ago, and some were planning to assemble their properties to sell to developers at a premium. One woman mentioned that she’d received an official offer far above market value and that the phone calls mysteriously stopped a few weeks prior to receiving the letter. This sounds like ST’s real estate people strategically targeted these “construction parking lots” to later be converted to affordable-housing projects based on inside information. What were they thinking?

        If this current witchhunt at the senate doesn’t get them, this may be the nail in the coffin.

      2. Whaaaat? Construction parking lots? Okay, now I’ll be the first to step up and defend it if it is true construction staging. They do need places to store equipment, machinery, job trailers, and other necessities. But if they are doing parking lots as part of their staging, that needs to be eliminated. The employees can take a bus just like anybody else. As for the ultimate transfer to a private owner, if it isn’t needed permanently, the homeowners should be given an option to hold the property, sell a temporary construction easement to ST which may include demolition of the home, and then retain ultimate ownership of the land. Then, they could assemble their property and sell at a massive profit after construction completion (or even before construction completion if they find a developer or investor willing to purchase it in advance).

      3. Yes, it was startling to hear many of those personal stories from the property owners at yesterday’s hearing. Having gone thru a condemnation action myself with my county government for a road project, I could certainly empathize with these property owners. (Thankfully I had decent legal representation in the matter.)

        The story about the developers, who had been making above market offers, suddenly disappearing caught my attention too. I had one of those “hmmm, that’s interesting” moments.

    2. This is concerning:

      “In the past, TOD was somewhat of an afterthought for Sound Transit, as evidenced in the small, difficult-to-develop parcels of surplus land it bought near stations for staging during the first phase of light-rail construction. With ST3, the agency has a mandate from its board to think strategically about surplus land and TOD.”
      Building on Success of TOD in Seattle with ST3

      Sound Transit CEO says agency won’t blow $54B chance for development around transit

      1. The policy change was a few years ago. I first heard about it in a board meeting around 2014 when ST updated its long-range plan; it was already in place then. Originally ST was neutral about station-area issues because it didn’t want to get caught in the middle of the nimby/urbanist debates and villified by one side or the other (which would translate to No votes). After the initial segment opened, say 2012-ish, ST realized realized that density was intrinsically essential to maximizing the usefulness of a subway so it could no longer be neutral. It chose affordable housing as the type of density it wanted to pursue with its own property.

        I don’t know about these Shoreline parcels so I can’t comment on that. But Engineer has a good idea to lease the temporary use of parcels rather than buying them. It would be nice if they could tie that with density and come to some agreement with the homeowners that whatever’s built after construction will be higher density and more walkable, even if part of the land is left for a house and yard for the owner. It’s probably too late for such a change in strategy, not to mention determining the legal basis for compellng owners to consent to a lease (since eminent domain is about selling).

        “The employees can take a bus just like anybody else.”

        What buses go to 145th and 185th stations? The 347 goes to one; the 348 to the other; both half-hourly 30-footers. The 512 goes to 145th. There may be a couple downtown-oriented peak routes. That’s not much for a large busy construction project whose workers come from everywhere. And parking doesn’t necessarily mean just commuters: there’s also deliveries and things.

        “Sound Transit CEO says agency won’t blow $54B chance for development around transit”

        This is critical. There are very few stations where a lot of people can live within a 10-minute walk because of zoning limitations and adjacent P&Rs. We can’t blow these just like we can’t blow Capitol Hill and U-District because there are no others: Mt Baker languished for years and finally got a teeny-tiny upzone, Beacon Hill gets even less, Roosevelt is also modest, etc.Where will the hundreds of thousands of people who want to live within walking distance of Link live?

      2. If necessary the construction company can run shuttle buses.

        Demolishing people’s homes to build a rail line — fine. Demolishing them to place cranes for the line — fine. Demolishing them for temporary construction equipment — questionable.

        Demolishing people’s homes for a temporary arking lot — ludicrous, grotesque, unnecessary, should be banned.

    1. Any eminent domain is at appraised value, so the property owner gets the full value. In the Puyallup case, the concern seems to be that the appraised value of the property owned by the Eagles is less than the cost of replacing it with one of the available buildings elsewhere.

      I don’t think the Shoreline owners are objecting to the price they would be offered. At this point, there isn’t an offer; the owners just received notice their homes are being considered for acquisition. (Though it’s possible developers might pay more – the homes are surely worth more as a consolidated property than they are worth individually).

      1. “Any eminent domain is at appraised value, so the property owner gets the full value.”

        Sometimes. It’s just not as black and white as you make it out to be. For example:

        “The government will frequently, if not usually, choose a lesser highest and best use for a property it seeks to acquire through eminent domain. This justifies the government offering to pay a low “fair” market value for land it seeks to acquire. Property owners should insure the correct highest and best use is applied to their property. This may often be different from the actual use employed by the current owner.”

        Also, condemning authorities typically ignore severance damages in the case of partial takings.

        Having gone thru a condemnation action personally, my advice to these property owners is to get an attorney who specializes in this area.

      2. Thanks Dan. As to the Eagles, yeah I think if the City of Puyllaup wants their damn garage where the Eagles are – they can chip in to build the Eagles a new building. Pierce County Exec Dammier is doing a damn fine job trying to “fix this”.

        As to Lynnwood Link displacement, I hope these folks are paid enough to get quality housing close to Sound Transit services – and a free lifetime ORCA pass. It’s a sacrifice for the greater good, but a sacrifice nonetheless and should be treated & acknowledged as such giving those folks dignity and appreciation.

        Some STB commentators – not you Dan – should have to spend 15-20 minutes having a heart-to-heart with a family having to consider a sacrifice for the greater good. In my case, it was jet noise on Whidbey Island. It was a very enlightening conversation growing my empathy. I think some of you down here might want to find it…

    2. There’s no way of knowing that unless the property owner tells us. Also, one needs to consider the relocation aspect. For example, say my property had a market value of $500,000 and ST agrees to pay me said sum in their offer and I sign a possession and use agreement. Now also say my current improvement is a 40 year-old house with 4 bedrooms and two baths with x amount of square feet. Now what’s the inventory for a comparable home in the area or in neighboring areas? I could certainly see a scenario whereby a replacement home cannot be had for the amount of the proceeds from the deal struck with ST.

      1. I wasn’t aware Shoreline was down to its last few single family homes. I figured there are probably a few other comparable houses around somewhere.

        Being forced to move sucks for people who have memories in their long-time homes. Actually, moving sucks for anybody ever. But I don’t see any homeowner being financially burdened.

      2. Dan. Lol. I guess you know something that the Lynnwood Link Executive project director, Rod Kempkes, doesn’t then.

        During Mr. Kempkes’ presentation to the board back on August 24, 2017, when discussing the increased cost of the project due to ROW acquisition he indicated that “relocation is difficult due to the limited supply of comparable properties”.

      3. The issue of course is what is market value and can you buy a comparable house with that. Houses (except brand new ones in subdivisions) are generally unique. In the Seattle market, most house prices are determined primarily by how many competing offers there are. And that’s driven by how much people want the house. But appraisers don’t account for that. So what is fair market value may not be enough to buy a comparable house.

        Let me give an example – a few months ago two houses near mine sold within a month of each other. One sold for $75k less than the other. The cheaper one is several hundred square feet bigger with a much bigger lot. Why was it cheaper? My guess is that it was basically ugly and needed some cosmetic work. The bigger house got one offer. The smaller but more expensive house got a dozen. It got sold for over $100k above asking while the smaller house was sold below asking.

      4. David. Yes I agree. That was essentially my point.

        I took a look at a specific parcel that I was aware was one of the ones being acquired by ST in Shoreline as part of the Lynnwood Link extension. The owner sold the property to ST in Oct 2016 for $510,000. At the time of sale, the property had a Zillow estimate of $543,000 and was on the King County tax rolls at $462,000 for 2016 (prior year valuation).

        Looking at similar properties in the area of the target parcel that have sold since then, I see very few below $600,000.

  3. This came across to me as another example of Sound Transit being reactive instead of proactive. It sounded to me like several of these residents had been trying to get some answers from ST since receiving their notifications by mail but to no avail. Also, it seemed like there had been very little time between the notification process and the motion presented and adopted yesterday giving the agency the green light for these condemnation actions.

    1. Considering the issues they had when building the core link line from DT to the airport, you would think ST would be better at preparing for eminent domain actions. Instead it looks like they took steps backward and then had an oh crap moment here.

      Remember this is the line that is already over budget because they didn’t buy the property when they had the chance. I find it interesting that all of a sudden they rush to try to grab properties with little notice. Sounds like someone made a big mistake in the planning process if you ask me and I don’t think shady actions is going to magically make it better.

    2. It sounds like ST dropped the ball in notifying some homeowners, but we have little information so we can’t say definitively. Buying property early has its own problems, especially when it’s not yet certain where the stations will be. And almost nobody predicted Doctom II would it so quickly and so hard. When Amazon first offered cloud services in the mid 2000s I thought it was pretty ridiculous and would be another experiment that spluttered along with little uptake, but companies ditched their servers and latched onto it like droves, and startups started going cloud the whole way. That was the effect of millions of peoples’ decisions, and it could have gone either way. Now ST has recently started pre-acquiring land somewhere, I forget where. That’s one of the benefits of a long-term ST3 (i.e., putting part of what was previously considered ST4 into it), because it gives ST authorization and certainty to pre-acquire land.

      Now if only ST had done that back in the 1990s…. But then, if only ST had been on the side of density and serving more of Seattle’s urban neighborhoods in the 1990s, and if there had been comprehensive regional+local transit planning…. In some respects it’s like the national situation, where the govt blew the chance for a big jobs-rich infrastructure upgrade at rock-bottom bond prices in 2009-2013.

  4. Sound Transit announced the cost of Lynnwood Link has gone up by $500 million, and it will take 6 months longer to build. Most of the increased cost is due to higher real estate prices for the land they need to buy for the light rail. But there was also this:

    “There will be approximately 7,000 trees removed for the project. The resulting landscaping costs have gone up $32 million from what was expected in preliminary engineering.”

    You can do the math–that is about $4600 more to replace a single tree. Yes, that is merely the increase in the price, not the total price. Unless the trees they are planting include the Two Trees of Valinor, this seems way out of line. How can planting trees in this most tree-friendly part of the USA cost so much?

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