News

Transit center decision stands

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

After a weekend of thought and several hours of deliberation, Federal Way City Council members Monday night decided to uphold hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux’s July ruling that the transit center planned for downtown Federal Way meets the criteria to be considered an essential public facility.

Residents and business owners appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the council, saying Causseaux issued a poor ruling on the transit center because he thought his hands were tied by prior environmental assessment studies.

But while some council members expressed similar concerns, particularly with traffic congestion and public participation, they agreed 5 to 1 that the hearing examiner did his job correctly with the material that was before him.

Councilwoman Mary Gates didn’t participate in deliberations or voting because she’s a board member for Sound Transit, the agency that wants to build the transit center.

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

But the merchants remain staunchly opposed to the proposal to put a parking garage at the same location, which they maintain will only bring more traffic congestion, noise and pollution into downtown.

Opponents of the project –– a five-story, 1,200-stall parking garage and transit center with associated high-occupancy vehicle ramps to Interstate 5 –– said Causseaux should have scrutinized the state and federal environmental studies more closely before issuing his ruling in Sound Transit’s favor.

Dave Larson, an attorney representing the appellants, said he and others also have issues with the public process, or apparent lack of one.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar, the lone council dissenter Monday, said that for her, the fatal flaw was in the public process.

“There’s the letter of the law and the intent of the law,” she said. “The intent is that our citizens would be adequately informed to make reasonable testimony before some body.”

Counciliman Dean McColgan agreed the process could have been done better. Somewhere along the way, he said, it seemed to have changed from a push for development downtown to just a large park-and-ride garage, and nobody seemed able to recall when or how it happened.

“I think it slipped by a lot of people, including a lot of members of the public,” he said.

Councilman Eric Faison said he could appreciate the “simplicity and elegance” of an alternative parking garage idea submitted by Citizens for a Vibrant City Center, a group of Federal Way residents and business owners who opposed the garage facility and offered other suggestions for Sound Transit and the city to explore. They included building a smaller facility at the existing South 324th Street park-and-ride lot and providing express service from the near-empty South 348th Street lot.

Still, Faison said while he wasn’t “totally enamored” of the parking garage, “I don’t think it’s going to be horrible.”

“I share some of the concerns about public involvement,” he said, “but I think the letter of the law was followed.”

Larson said his group has considered filing a complaint with the city’s ethics board — appellants said a Sound Transit executive advisory committee, which decided where to site the facility, might have violated the open public meetings act by not announcing its meetings — and filing an appeal of the council’s decision in King County Superior Court. No decision has been made.

Kochmar was resigned to her position — “I think I’m sinking into the abyss,” she said — but reiterated she has serious concerns with whether Sound Transit adequately notified the public about the scope of the project and whether members of the public had the opportunity to offer input.

She said she had difficulty finding information and still can’t find some minutes of meetings during which some agreements were made on the project.

“I can tell you, folks, that if I don’t know, our citizens don’t know. There’s something wrong with this process,” Kochmar said. “When you say there’s been extensive public participation, I fail to see where this council or the public could have come and had meaningful comment on the whole project. We simply took it at face value that there was public input.”

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

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