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Transit argument continues

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

A heated hearing over Hearing Examiner Stephen Causseaux’s July transit center ruling was continued to Monday after Federal Way City Council members, frustrated and tired, decided to adjourn at 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Citizens and local businesses are appealing Causseaux’s decision to the Federal Way City Council, saying the process of planning and siting a five-story, 1,200-stall parking garage, transit center and associated access ramps to Interstate 5 in the downtown core has lacked public participation from the beginning.

But the public wasn’t the only party left out of the process, according to the appellants. Councilwoman Linda Kochmar, her voice shaking with anger, said she had questions she wanted answered by Sound Transit attorney Steve Sheahy.

Kochmar said the city’s Land Use and Transportation Committee amended its own agenda several years ago to include a memorandum of understanding with Sound Transit and passed it onto the council’s consent agenda, which council members approve along with several other items during one vote.

She said she recused herself from that vote because there had been no council discussion and now she can’t find minutes for those meetings on the city’s Web site. She added she hasn’t had a chance as a city council member to vote on any of the proceedings related to the siting or project elements of the transit center and parking garage.

“Those decisions were made in (Sound Transit’s) Executive Advisory Committee meetings. No minutes were ever presented to the council,” she said. “I believe the public process was subverted. I don’t believe there has been public process.”

Attorney Dave Larson, who is representing the appellants, said the process didn’t allow for public involvement. “It was a staff determination to locate it at that site,” he said. “You never had a say. We never had a say.”

Sheahy responded the city council didn’t vote on the transit center and parking garage project because the council delegated that authority to a hearing examiner.

At issue still for community members is the necessity of a parking garage at all in downtown Federal Way. True, the South 320th lot is full, they said, but the park and ride lot at 21st Avenue South is almost always empty because Metro doesn’t provide express service at that lot.

Sound Transit officials have said it’s too far in-city for Sound Transit’s regional express buses to pick up riders.

Downtown business owners said they don’t mind the concept of a transit center alone — transit centers have been shown to improve pedestrian activity, particularly shopping and dining, in the areas where they’re located.

But they remain staunchly opposed to the parking garage, which they maintain will only serve to bring more traffic congestion, noise and pollution into downtown.

In addition, appellants argued Causseaux didn’t scrutinize environmental protection assessments conducted by Sound Transit, which they allege is based on flawed assumptions, like traffic emptying from the garage at a steady rate over four hours during peak times.

Stephanie Hicks, representing the appellants, said Sound Transit’s analysis “does not appear to be real world.”

Allan Wallace, a land use attorney for the appellants, told the council Causseaux “simply did not complete his work.”

He said the hearing examiner didn’t review whether the mitigation measures were adequate considering the nearby high school, apartment and condo complexes, senior housing and theater and outdoor plazas.

“He just accepted Sound Transit’s NEPA (the national environmental protection study) as adequate and said, ‘My job’s done and over with,’” Wallace said. “You can see from the colloquy between the examiner and staff that the examiner simply accepted the NEPA and SEPA (state environmental protection study). That’s a plain error of law.”

Still, Sheahy argued Causseaux’s decision was rendered “after years of public input and public process.”

“The environmental review is over. Complete. It’s done. There was a thorough analysis,” he said, adding the appellants’ arguments already were heard before a SEPA hearing examiner, in King County Superior Court and in the state Court of Appeals before landing before Causseaux.

But city residents and business owners allege issues like noise and real figures for traffic congestion need to be revisited.

“It’s really not been scrutinized like it should be,” Gateway Center president Dan Casey said.

Larson said the city council should overturn Causseaux’s decision and then “meaningfully reconsider alternatives.”

Following a brief executive session last Wednesday, in which council members adjourn with the city attorney for private discussions, Deputy Mayor Dean McColgan said he wanted more time to “digest the information presented tonight.” Other council members agreed.

Kochmar said she wanted time for a thorough discussion and Councilman Jack Dovey said he wanted a break to learn the material “so we have the intelligent answers we need to have.”

The council agreed to take the weekend off and will continue the hearing Monday to deliberate what they’ve heard and render a decision on whether to keep Causseaux’s ruling, overturn it, or send it back to him for more work.

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