News

Transit center foes claim city broke rules

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

A group of Federal Way businesses and residents have filed another appeal of the transit center and parking garage project in downtown Federal Way.

This time the opponents are arguing the process was flawed all along and a hearing examiner rubberstamped the project last July without reviewing the issues, allowing Sound Transit to move forward with the project.

The appellants argued in their appeal that the city of Federal Way and Sound Transit bypassed city code in an attempt to get the five-story, 1,200-stall parking garage and transit center and associated freeway access ramps built at South 316th Street and 23rd Avenue South in downtown Federal Way.

On Oct. 22, the City Council will hear the appeal, which seeks to reverse hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux’s July decision that the project meets the criteria for an essential public facility.

City attorney Pat Richardson said city officials won’t comment on the appeal prior to the hearing because the council is sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity.

Still, appellants want the council to send the appeal to King County Superior Court, saying it isn’t fair for Federal Way officials to ultimately decide a case brought by a group accusing city officials of deliberately ignoring city regulations.

Dave Larson, attorney for the appellants, alleged Sound Transit’s executive advisory board, comprised of members of Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Pierce County, public, private and citizens’ groups, decided on a site in 1998 and then “pushed through” the environmental work to support it.

In July 2002, the city and Sound Transit agreed to put the garage and transit center at the South 316th Street site, even though the citizens’ group was appealing it. When people raised concerns –– including congestion, noise, pedestrian safety, pollution and planning that runs counter to the downtown vision — about the site, officials pointed to the environmental work to show the site was sound.

“They ignored the public process,” Larson said. “By the time it got to the hearing examiner, Sound Transit argued the hearing examiner was bound by the (environmental work). Sound Transit argued everything was done and there was no reason to go back through it all.”

On Dec. 23, 2002, Sound Transit submitted an application for the transit center and parking garage to be classified as an essential public facility. The June 24, 2003 hearing was set to determine if the garage and transit center facility met the criteria to be classified as an essential public facility and, on July 17, Causseaux ruled it did.

According to city code adopted in 1997, a facility determined to be of significant public importance but is difficult to find a site for can be classified an essential public facility and exempted from certain city codes to facilitate site location and construction.

In the appellants’ brief filed Sept. 5, Larson argued Causseaux didn’t independently examine the criteria, relying instead on the word of city and Sound Transit officials and the environmental assessments.

Lee Somerstein, spokesman for Sound Transit, declined to comment on the appeal,. He said Sound Transit officials want to “let the process work its way through.”

According to Somerstein, in 1998, Sount Transit identified several sites that might work for a transit center and parking garage. With the help of an executive advisory committee, the agency ultimately chose the South 316th and 23rd Avenue South site as the most appropriate.

After they picked the site, the transit agency conducted an environmental assessment to see if there were issues there that might remove the site from consideration or at least introduce mitigation issues, he said.

The environmental assessment was finished in September 2001. “That was the point at which the preferred alternative began to move forward,” Somerstein said. At the conclusion of the environmental assessment, a public hearing was held to gather input.

But Larson and the citizens’ group argued officials picked the site without public input, made agreements with the city and then conducted the environmental assessment to lock it in.

He and the group of citizens and businesses would like to see city officials overturn Causseaux’s decision, which essentially gave the go-ahead for Sound Transit to begin construction on the facility.

“Basically, it’s the rubberstamp process this has turned into,” Larson said. “It was never intended to be a rubberstamp.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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