The West Seattle Link extension was promised to voters as three stations (Delridge, Avalon, and Alaska Junction) running on an elevated guideway. Some West Seattle residents are advocating for the removal of Avalon station to pay for a tunnel under the Junction.
Sound Transit has pushed back on this idea, arguing that removing a station is inconsistent with the voter approved plan, and that routing the train through the golf course would be frowned upon by the FTA, which doesn’t like infrastructure projects befouling local parkland. But what there were a way to keep all three stations and afford a tunnel under the Junction. Could West Seattle have its cake and eat it, too?
The West Seattle Golf Course is on land owned by the City of Seattle and leased to a private operator. (This public-private partnership, which has the residents of Green Lake somewhat freaked out, is widespread in the Seattle Parks system.) The City could, if it wanted, terminate the lease and do something else with the land.
As local writer Rachel Ludwick has argued, our city’s golf courses are underused and, given our housing crisis, possibly not the best use of public land. Architect Mike Eliason calculatesthat using just half of the 120 acres of the West Seattle Golf Course one could house 7,500 housing units (at roughlythe average density of the new 5-7 story developments at the Junction) even while keeping the other half as a park.
The answer, then, becomes clear: shutter the golf course, sell half the land to developers, and use the proceeds — which could be several hundred million dollars at today’s multifamily land prices — to finance a short tunnel under the Junction. Keep the Avalon station right in the middle of this new 7,500-unit transit-oriented community (Avalon Village, anyone?).
As the land is developed, it would throw off millions of dollars for affordable housing in the form of MHA fees — perhaps as much as $100 million. (Of course, the city could opt to retain some of the land and build public housing directly, but then it might not raise enough to finance the tunnel. A balance would have to be found.) Oh, and it would also make the Port very happy by avoiding conflicts with Harbor Island and Spokane St.
To be sure, there are problems with this scheme. For one, the golfers of West Seattle would surely be opposed. But the reality is that golf is declining in popularity (despite our golfer-in-chief’s best efforts). The City of Seattle is currently evaluating the future of its golf courses. Even in suburban Parkland, WA, outside Tacoma, a 146-acre golf course is about to be developed into just 388 detached, single-family, sprawl-inducing homes. Wouldn’t a 60-acre park that could be enjoyed by everyone be preferable to a 120-acre golf course used by a shrinking minority? Plant enough trees on the old fairways and there might not even be a net loss to the city’s tree canopy.
More critically, if the city were to come into several hundred million dollars from property disposal, would a tunnel under the junction be the most equitable way to spend it? Probably not, but if it gets tons of housing built and keeps West Seattle residents from filing lawsuits to block it, it might be worth the trade.
Is this a crazy idea? You bet. But one thing the last few years have taught us is that the city — and the region — is in a generational housing crunch. It’s time to think bigger.