Transit center's fate looms


Staff writer

Federal Way residents have until July 1 to submit written comments to a hearing examiner who will decide the fate of a transit center and parking garage project slated for downtown Federal Way.

Last Wednesday, hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux heard public testimony for and against construction of the up-to five-story, 1,200-stall transit center and parking garage project on the corner of South 316th Street and 23rd Avenue South.

Causseaux is expected to render a written decision later in July on whether the transit center and parking garage project meets the city’s criteria to be considered an essential public facility.

According to essential public facility city code, adopted in 1997, any facility determined to be of significant public importance but that is difficult to site or is a necessary component of a system can be designated an essential public facility and exempted from certain city codes to facilitate siting and construction.

Community development director Kathy McClung classified the transit center and parking garage as an essential public facility last November when Sound Transit submitted its formal application to construct the parking garage and transit center, though senior planner Lori Michaelson said city staff were aware of the magnitude of the project and its likelihood to be designated an essential public facility before the application was submitted.

Michaelson said the director of the city’s community development department determines which projects are essential public facilities based on specific criteria in the city code. Transit centers are on the list of what an essential public facility would be, along with facilities like colleges or universities or water treatment facilities.

Sound Transit’s parking garage and transit center project is the first essential public facility to be reviewed under the code.

At the hearing Wednesday, attorney Dave Larson said the parking garage is inconsistent with the city’s vision for downtown Federal Way, which among other things is supposed to foster a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

He and others who addressed Causseaux expressed concern the decision had already been made, adding the process is “tainted because agreements have already been entered into prior to the hearing examiner’s public hearing.”

Jim Ferrell, a King County deputy prosecutor who’s running against city councilwoman and Sound Transit board member Mary Gates in this fall’s city council elections, said Sound Transit failed to notify people far enough in advance of the public hearing. Based on what he called the “wholly inadequate showing by Sound Transit and the city, the application should fail.”

Betty Huff and Kathy Franklin, both residents of Federal Way, told Causseaux they support the project. Huff called the transit center and parking garage “an example of responsible development in a community,” adding the project, if done correctly, could enhance the city.

Dan Casey, developer of the Gateway Center business park, which abuts the transit center property, has maintained the project would be fine if it was limited to a transit center. He and other business owners and residents have long opposed the installation of a parking garage downtown, saying they fear the additional commuters will exacerbate an already bad traffic problem.

In his testimony to the hearing examiner, Casey said the project doesn’t meet the criteria set forth in the city code.

The applicants don’t prove the parking garage is needed, he said, particularly when adding express Metro bus service at the South 344th Street park and ride might alleviate the number of commuters driving to the downtown park and ride.

Currently, Metro doesn’t offer non-stop bus service from the South 344th Street lot. Instead, buses pick up commuters there and drive them to the downtown lot, where more commuters are picked up. The bus service then continues non-stop from downtown Federal Way to Seattle.

Casey added the best place for a park and ride lot is closer to the neighborhoods. “Don’t make people leave the neighborhoods to drive to the park and ride lot,” he said. “The growth the garage will need to accommodate won’t be downtown.”

Casey said alternatives weren’t adequately explored — South 344th Street would be an alternative, he argued, if Metro would offer express service there.

And building a parking garage downtown would be an unfair concentration of parking stalls in the downtown area if the 1,200 stalls there were added to the 830 that already exist at the South 320th Street park and ride lot.

Exhausting the downtown core’s street capacity with the parking garage will preclude construction of new office space because the additional office workers would swamp the intersections, he said, and more Class A office buildings are “the underpinnings of the whole (downtown) vision,” he said.

Sound Transit officials did not return calls to the Mirror.

Following public comment last Wednesday, Causseaux closed the public hearing but left open the record until July 1 to allow people to submit written comments regarding whether the transit center parking garage meets essential public facility criteria.

After July 1, Sound Transit and the city will have the opportunity to respond to written comments and then Causseaux will close the record. He has 10 days to issue a written decision whether the project meets the criteria.

Michaelson said city staff recommended approval of the project because they believe it meets the criteria for an essential public facility set forth in the city code. She said staff don’t know what will happen if Causseaux rules against it.

“I have no idea what we’d do,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a question that we’ve asked.”

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