Is it gentrification if they’re putting in a rail yard?
Credit: Dick’s

At yesterday’s Board meeting, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff confronted a growing backlash against a potential operations and maintenance facility (OMF) site in Kent.

Rogoff detailed Sound Transit’s efforts to prevent a backlash, and also presented questionable legal analysis about the threat of a lawsuit against Sound Transit over the issue.

As Bruce wrote yesterday, the Kent City Council rezoned one of the candidate sites, which presently holds a Dick’s and Lowe’s, in an attempt to forestall further consideration of the site for OMF. Kent councilmembers have also expressed concerns that some sites could limit the TOD potential of future Link stations.

Rogoff said that the agency is far from a decision on a final site, and hasn’t ruled out any of the contenders.

“We have been letting stakeholders know that we are in the very early stages in the identification process,” Rogoff said. “Needless to say, board members know there is no easy location to site an operations and maintenance facility. That’s particularly true in the South End.”

Rogoff said that a three month public comment and scoping period, which will include all potential sites, will start in March. The Board will then use the public comments and staff analysis to select alternatives for the two year environmental review.

“Not all projects that would necessarily be considered as part of scoping—the Board may not necessarily decide to advance all of those into the EIS phase. We must, by law, evaluate a range of sites in this upcoming two-year EIS process.”

To reassure the Board, Rogoff detailed Sound Transit’s always-robust outreach efforts, which could calm the waters. He also said that, for similar reasons, he had a meeting this week with Kent Mayor Dana Ralph about the matter. Rogoff says the meeting will yield better communication between the agency and the city.

But Rogoff also strained to suggest that Kent’s zoning actions could expose Sound Transit to otherwise-avoidable legal risk.

“Existing commercial uses and incompatible zoning alone are not enough to protect Sound Transit from a potential legal challenge later in the process,” Rogoff said.

That idea—that the recent zoning changes could heighten the risk of a suit challenging the environmental review—seems like a stretch. Any well-organized group (or, as is often the case, a disorganized one) can file a suit during an environmental review process for any old reason, no matter how dubious. Local examples abound.

Seattle anti-density activists sued to challenge the MHA environmental review process. The suit was dismissed at the end of 2018. Another Seattle group challenged the environmental review of the new 520 bridge, only to have the suit dismissed in 2012. Bellevue residents sued Sound Transit itself over the environmental review process during the Great Bellevue Light Rail Wars, though the suit was dismissed in 2013.

That’s all to say that Sound Transit could easily be sued by any sufficiently pissed-off neighborhood group in Kent (or anywhere else), even if they do everything right. And anyway, those kinds of lawsuits usually don’t work if the planning entity has done its homework.

So why would Rogoff bring it up? My guess is he probably wants to prevent any delay of construction down the road. EIS suits can sometimes result in injunctions against a project or policy while they’re litigated, as in the case of the MHA litigation.

The real problem is political. If the agency can’t calm the brewing Kent backlash and build a working relationship with elected officials, the city might continue to legislate against Sound Transit’s wishes.

Rogoff’s public scolding of the Kent City Council won’t prevent that. In fact, it might just make things worse.

Shutdown blocks cash flow

Sound Transit can’t get a call back from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) because of the federal government shutdown. They can’t get a check cashed, either.

Rogoff said at the meeting that Sound Transit can’t get its FTA-funded expenditures reimbursed while the government is closed. However, Rogoff says that Sound Transit has enough cash on hand, and a robust farebox and sales tax cash flow, to manage operations and capital projects already under way—for the time being.

If the shutdown continues indefinitely, Sound Transit could run low on its cash reserves. In the worst case, that could force the agency to cut operations. Fortunately, Rogoff sounded confident that the agency is far away from that outcome.

However, some planning and engineering on new projects will be delayed. Furloughed FTA employees need to review certain planning and engineering documents for new projects before that work can continue.

Board membership changes

The start of 2019 brought notable changes to the Sound Transit Board’s membership and leadership.

Redmond Mayor John Marchione is the new chair, replacing Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. He’ll serve until the end of this year, when he finishes his term as mayor and retires from public service. The Board will pick a new chair at the end of 2019.

Marchione has been a member of the Board since 2008. Notably, Marchione successfully advocated for the Redmond segment of ST3 to be elevated.

Former vice chair Ron Lucas, Mayor of Steilacoom, abruptly resigned from the Board this week. Lucas, a longtime Sound Transit critic, will be replaced as vice chair by Kent Keel, Mayor of University Place. Lucas’s seat on the Board will be filled by Kim Roscoe, Mayor of Fife.

Keel was the chair of Pierce Transit’s Board for several years, helping the agency recover from a fiscal crisis and reorganize service to great acclaim. Keel was the only Sound Transit Board member to vote against giving Rogoff a raise last year. He also has the right idea about escalators.

North 130th engineering approved

The Board voted unanimously to kick off engineering and analysis for the North 130th Street station by amending the existing Lynnwood Link design-build contract with HNTB.

Snohomish County officials, including board member Paul Roberts, continued to express fiscal concerns about building the station as part of the initial line, rather than as an infill station, but voted to let analysis go ahead.

The station isn’t yet approved to be built at the same time as the rest of the line, which would prevent single tracking and other construction-related service disruptions. Rogoff joked that the coming single-tracking in the downtown tunnel might sway Snohomish board members’ opinions.

The board will consider that question when engineering and cost analysis reports for both options (i.e. infill and all-at-once construction) are available.

Sustainability strategy

The agenda called for the Board to approve an update to the agency-wide Sustainability Plan.

Instead, the Board punted on approval and sent the update to committee for detailed review. Board members discussed Sound Transit’s emissions targets, energy mix, and the possibility of sourcing the next generation fleet with more electric-powered vehicles.

The Board will discuss the issue further in an Executive Committee meeting. The Executive Committee meets next on February 7.

35 Replies to “Rogoff scolds Kent about OMF zoning”

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much about a lawsuit — a maintenance facility obviously is a public use. Spady will get paid full compensation.

    1. Didn’t Spady help kill the head tax (by bankrolling the initiative to repeal it)? He might have the money to do it.

      Too bad ST can’t say, OK, no light rail for you, we’ll redirect the funds to North Seattle, etc.

  2. “To reassure the Board, Rogoff detailed Sound Transit’s always-robust outreach efforts.”
    Rogoff is being less than honest with the Board. Prior to late last year Kent had only ever been invited to participate in the Federal Way Link process – the south OMF siting has not been a part of the FW Link discussions.
    OMF site discussions led by ST staff have apparently been going on for months as part of the Tacoma Dome Link extension (the portion of the line from Federal Way to the dome), but Kent was never informed about potential OMF site studies until the city heard about it (by accident and not by ST) in Nov. 2018. If Kent had been consulted earlier, the city would have appreciated the opportunity to explain why the Lowe’s/Dick’s site is completely inappropriate for an OMF, and to further explore the tremendous opportunity to re-use the vacant brownfield Midway Landfill site owned by Seattle Public Utilities.
    Dennis Higgins, Kent City Council Member

    1. To amend a part of my comments and in the interest of full disclosure: I’ve been informed this morning that city staff did receive notice in July 2018 about the OMF siting process, but did not immediately grasp the significance, and city leadership was not informed until Nov. My other comments stand.

    2. By publicly beginning with a very limited number of sites, ST did not begin with sincere outreach. I’ve never seen such a limited alternatives development process by a major transit operator anywhere as what our region accepts as “normal”.

      I actually think that it’s better to not pick a specific site until a property is at an acquisition stage unless it’s already in public ownship. Having at least 5-10 sites available give ST (and the public interest in saving money) a much better bargaining position to buy any one site.

      1. The amount of 30 acre parcels adjacent to the proposed rail line will be pretty limited. When planning a rout there will always be way more options because its a blank slate. The OMF Needs to be near the Rail line and be large is size

      2. The game ST plays is to include ridiculous options in their required “due diligence”. They proposed the Fred Meyer location on 148th as one of the alternatives for the OMF-E; it’s not even close to large enough and would be stupid expensive to acquire.The ST board is a political animal so all the decisions about locating the OMF facilities are politically motivated. Wherever it lands that justification will lose tax revenue big time. No development impact fees, no future property tax revenue, very limited employment per acre and the big one… no sales tax revenue (the reason cities love car dealerships). Hint, the way Democrats rule over the ST district you can be assured that the OMF will get sited in a Republican leaning district; and they won’t go out of their way to pick an otherwise unusable hillside like the did in Seattle.

  3. Good report, but…

    1) One thing that you did not mention was the new Board public comment rules. This was something worked on to really have more public comment about the projects, and not… stump speeches and the worse we’ve all had to become familiar with. I think it’s important this is brought to the attention of the Seattle Transit Blog readership.

    2) I see CEO Rogoff’s side in this about litigation risk to the agency. I do hope the Dick’s Drive-In site is removed by the end of scoping, and the Spadys’ initiative threat to make the ST Board 100% elected by district is at the least modified (I want elected boardmembers and an elected rest-of-state position for accountability for the fares & sales tax & use of WSDOT resources); but also to keep some of the current ST Boardmembers). Sadly I don’t think time is on Sound Transit’s side.

  4. How could delayed funding from FTA “force the agency to cut operations?” Slow or halt construction? Yes. But not daily operations, right?

  5. Building a rail yard on the landfill sounds it would be about as easy as building it on water – everything will need to be supported to avoid rupturing the landfill cap. I can’t think of a more difficult ($$$) place to build a rail yard…

    1. We believe the landfill is the perfect site. It has already been mitigated and ready for re-use, according to the EPA documents. It will cost little or nothing to acquire from Seattle Public Utilities, unlike every other site under study. There are federal and state redevelopment funds available for brownfield redevelopment. Best of all siting on the landfill doesn’t bulldoze and forever remove half of the area designated for TOD near the KDM light rail station, overturning a 15 year public process that created the Envision Midway plan. Nor would existing thriving businesses and a small existing neighborhood be bulldozed in the near term.

    2. The thought on the landfill is that they could get federal cleanup funds to deal with the contamination, so that ST only would have to pay for the rail facilities.

    3. Councilmember Higgins, thank you for the information and for participating in STB. If the landfill site is chosen it will need strong city support, because my fear is that after ST acquires the site new contamination risks might arise and require expensive mitigation, and the cost shouldn’t fall wholly on Sound Transit, especially if ST chooses the site as a public service to avoid the TOD impacts the council cites.

      We once had a member from East Hill who pointed out that the part of Kent from downtown to East Hill has the highest density and transit ridership in south King County, and that serves a lot of lower-income and diverse people and businesses. I’ve been hoping ever since that Kent would become even more walkable and accept more housing. I’m impressed by Kent’s planned urban village at KDM Station, in contrast to what Des Moines and Federal Way are doing on 99. But Kent’s downtown and East Hill seem like missed opportunities. There are some plans downtown but they seem minimal, short, and a long time in coming, and East Hill seems to have completely stagnated in its one-story, large-parking-lot, only semi-walkable state. And the setbacks in the industrial north are so huge that you could fit a whole warehouse or houisng development in them; is this a zoning restriction or just the companies’ choice? I hope the city reconsiders these missed opportunities soon. I’d also urge Kent to consider supplemental funding for Metro as Seattle has done, both to boost off-peak frequency and for capital projects like the planned KDM RapidRide. Those would be a great benefit to current and future residents.

      1. Yes, it’s great to read elected official dialogue!

        Speaking of TOD, can Kent gently steer the development concept away from a parallel straight road east of SR 99? Making it a “village” requires some character and visual cues that it’s actually a village!

        Plus, can we not have another bland monolith of plain box apartment buildings? Some incentives for more attractive design themes would be a great signature strategy for the station. It’s getting so architecturally bland around here; many blocks look alike all over the region!

        Oh finally … hold a naming contest to replace “Midway”. Highline Village would be better. Better yet, Victoria — who was the Duchess of Kent!

      2. Thank you Mr. Orr and STB for the opportunity to comment. And thank you for your comments about Kent’s need to modernize our development regulations, many of which I agree need to be done. I read STB a few times a week, I am a transit (Metro 158 and Sounder) commuter to my day job in downtown Seattle, and I appreciate your advocacy work.
        Kent does pay into route 913 so there is precedent. I’m open to discussing other ways the city could encourage enhanced transit service. Everyone needs to understand: budgets for most cities outside of Seattle and Bellevue … are different creatures entirely. We have close to the same population as Bellevue but their municipal revenues and budget are three times those of Kent. Seattle is a league unto itself. This greatly limits our ability to throw cash at situations such as, theoretically, the OMF, in the ways that Seattle and Bellevue have done to mitigate ST facilities in their cities.
        Kent already struggles to host a lot of regionally important infrastructure and jobs, providing streets and police and the like, with a much smaller revenue base, and while the state removes funding (see Streamlined Sales Tax Mitigation – Kent was the most impacted city in the state from that fundamental change in sales tax revenue distribution).
        This also helps explain, I hope in part, why the Lowe’s/Dick’s site is so troubling to us. We really need that sort of dense economic development, and they’re proposing to pave over half the TOD instead … with a governmental facility that would pay no property tax and generate no economic activity. In the near term they’re proposing to bulldoze one of the top sales tax revenue generators in our sales-tax poor city (Lowe’s).
        All the while there’s a regional vacant brownfield redevelopment opportunity literally just to the south on the route of the rail line.
        Let’s continue this discussion, I greatly appreciate it.
        Dennis Higgins, Kent City Council Member

      3. What do you mean by character? I can’t compare a plan with fifty different features against a book with fifty different features and get any sense about what specifically you don’t like in Kent’s plan or which of the book’s concepts should replace them. As for a parallel straight road, isn’t the land too narrow and long for anything else, like Beacon Hill or 16th SW or Delridge in West Seattle? I hope you don’t mean gratuitous curves and cul-de-sacs because we’re trying to get away from that.

        I wish developers would stop designing buildings in a modernist/geometric style and bring back traditional moldings and vertical lines and intimate human scaling, but I don’t know how to legislate that. The worst is these buildings with currogated sides in some distasteful color with gray/white window frames. Do they really think anybody wants to live in that? If the currogated metal is necessary to keep the cost down, at least paint it some non-hideous color and give the window frames a nice contrast like yellow or red.

    4. What would the engineering requirements be to stabilize the landfill to hold a fleet or railcars weighing 50 tons apiece? Operations buildings, etc, can all be pile supported from the sublayer of soil, but the tracks I would imagine cannot. The terrain will continue to settle as materials break down and liquid waste continues to leach out of the soil. Tracks don’t perform well on shifting ground.

      1. I’m with Pete. It doesn’t make any physical sense to place a railyard on top of a closed landfill. The landfill is currently capped and the natural gas produced by the still-composting waste underneath is being captured and collected. But settlement will continue as long as there is still waste buried under there. Rail storage facilities and tracks have very narrow tolerances and could not handle much differential settlement.

        Capped landfills are great for parks or golf courses. Even wood-frame single-family homes could be built on them, as another commenter noted below. But I can’t see how a rail storage center could survive the different settlement that can’t be avoided.

    5. UW Station is built on a toxic-waste site so it’s not impossible. But we have to make sure there’s an adequate contingency plan and support from the governments around ST and that the EPA estimates are really solid, so that ST isn’t stuck with a catastrophic bill in the future if something goes wrong.

      1. Here in Spokane the county closed our landfill in the late 80’s and now has residential homes on top of the hill and know one has ever gotten sick or complained to Spokane County commissioners! So I see no problems building a maintenance yard on top of the Midway landfill.

      2. UW Station (and Husky Stadium) are built on what was an existing peninsula. The landfill is where the huge E1 parking lot, driving range, and IIRC a bit of the north part of the U Village lot is currently. UW does have plans to build quite a bit on the E1 site, but it will assuredly require a lot of pilings to do so.

  6. Northeast 130th Street station, not “North”.

    re Rogoff aside: is the crossover track inside IDS really worth the disruption to service and riders and significant capital cost? Of course East Link needs a track connection at the D-2. But could not LRV headed to and from Forest Street use the Pine Street or UW Link crossovers? Would not the trips take place at off-peak times.

    1. The more operations options the better.

      Trains often have disruptions — vehicle malfunctioning problems, train collisions with cars and/or people, signal or other systems failures, crime scenes at platforms, high winds that close East Link across Lake Washington as well as other minor reasons. Unlike buses, they can’t simply be rerouted. To think things will almost always work smoothly is a fantasy.

      Besides, the public fully pays for operating out-of-service trains. To make any improvement that saves operator time saves the public money on a daily basis for decades into the future.

    1. He got hired because of his federal connections, he hasn’t actually run a transit agency. He ran the FTA (obviously beneficial for connections) and worked for Patty Murray, that’s why he has the job.

  7. What say this whole discussion- and everything else contentious- get tabled ’til we’ve got a Federal Government working again?

    Mark Dublin

  8. Damn! Talk walking into Hell’s own sucker-punch! Shame on you, Mark! My intention wasn’t to silence discussion on the best place for the maintenance facility. Only to get the focus away from the failings of one particular official and the possible negative personal political motives of some others.

    Because I firmly believe that the main motive behind today’s interference with the functioning our our Federal Government is to instill precisely this order of interpersonal dissension throughout our country’s whole populace, let alone our every political and administrative structure.

    We’re in the teeth of the most successful psychological warfare campaign in modern History. Which if it succeeds….will be sweet puppy love compared to what follows! Luckily, as citizens and as decent people, we’ve got a failure-proof means to resist. Focus on the positive things we can do to save the situation with whatever means personally available to us.

    In our personal lives, many of us are already extending financial and other help to friends and loved ones whose income’s been taken away. And professionally, in this very discussion, address the question of such matters as where to put a light rail maintenance facility. A decision of many possible solutions, which thankfully is nowhere near its deadline, in a project spanned on the grand scale over decades.

    So abjectly I ask the chance to re-phrase. For our our maintenance base and our Country, let’s at least stay on topic to poisons possibly left in the soils. Not the ones being deliberately pumped into our souls for over a month.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I suspect a lot of this is just process. ST doesn’t want to reduce its pool of sites but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will push heavily for this site. The negative information about the 240th site will get into the EIS, and that may provide political cover to deselect it if anyone is reluctant to. The landfill site should be added[ I don’t know how easy it will be to get it on the list. The concerns about the landfill site are also things that belong in the EIS, and we should push for that in the scoping process when ST asks what issues the EIS should study.

      As for the two years of uncertainty the companies are concerned about, a lot of people and companies have gone through a decade or more of uncertanty about whether Link would come to their area and which alignment it would take, so i don’t see why we should give these companies and this site special consideration that all others don’t get. Passengers have been waiting to know for years where they can live to be within walking distance of a station and what kind of neighborhood environment they’d have, and cities have been wondering whether to zone for a light rail that may or may not come.

  9. Sound Transit needs to be given greater authority on par with WSDOT, its ridiculous they have to get extorted by every little podunk town for approval. Here we have a disposable burger shack selling cheap crappy burgers standing in the way of mobility in this region.

    1. It’s not about the burger shack.

      It’s about a location that’s right next to the station that should get mid-rise apartments someday. Dick’s easily can move into a building next door that has a bunch of apartments above.

  10. ST continues to have their heads up their rumps. The ST exec team should take the train south (Do these guys even use their own system(s) daily?) to Lakewood, and look for either empty space (there are plenty) or somewhere zoned industrial.

    This is about as backwards as the new P&R in Puyallup, didn’t ST notice this town is clogged up with traffic? How do airlines efficiently handle things?, they use a hub and spoke system because it’s highly efficient Put the P&R 2 or 3 or 5 miles out of town, put in bus transit lanes to the train station, and run timed buses :-) BAZIGNA!

    What they doing is what might of made sense 15 years ago. Its 2019, Piece County is going to gain around 200k in population in the next 30 years, they should already be building the system to handle that, today, like right now.

  11. Why can’t comment on this post? It keeps saying I have commented already! I haven’t posted anything regarding the Midway Landfill

  12. Why can’t comment on this post? It keeps saying I have commented already! I haven’t posted anything regarding the Midway Landfill

Comments are closed.