News

Decision on transit deal postponed

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

The Federal Way City Council, wanting more time to analyze the project, decided Tuesday to postpone a decision on an agreement regarding transit-oriented development near the planned transit center and parking garage site downtown.

“There’s been a lot of information that has come out. It’s a lot to think about,” Councilman Jack Dovey said.

According to a 2001 interlocal agreement between the city and Sound Transit, the latter would provide for transit-oriented development at two sites on the east and west sides of the project.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is any kind of business that would complement the transit center, like drycleaners, restaurants and daycares, though senior planner Lori Michaelson, the city lead on the project, said any use allowed in the city center zone would work.

The current agreement still requires Sound Transit to try to find developers for the sites, but states if Sound Transit doesn’t find anything 18 months after occupancy, the west side would be conveyed back to the city and the city would have the option to buy the east side.

According to the proposed agreement, if Sound Transit hasn’t found a developer of its choice by its expected occupancy date of October 2005, it’ll have to pay to issue a request for proposals to find one. When Sound Transit moves in, it’ll have to conduct temporary landscaping of the TOD sites.

Because of the changes in wording between the 2001 interlocal agreement and the current TOD agreement and new information presented by community groups, council members decided to take more time on the issues.

Between now and Feb. 17, when the council is scheduled to vote on the agreement, city officials will be “assessing the situation and exploring all the options,” said Councilman Jim Ferrell.

Several people who attended the council meeting Tuesday voiced their continued opposition to the transit center and five-story, 1,200-stall parking garage project slated for South 316th Street and 23rd Avenue South.

Bob Hitchcock, chairman-elect of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said the business group’s board would like to work with the council and Sound Transit to find a solution, but urged the council to “look at the amount of non-support in the business community.”

The chamber isn’t opposed to the transit center portion of the project, he said, but members feel the parking garage would be detrimental to businesses downtown. Because of that, the chamber rescinded a letter of support for the project.

Federal Way School Board member Ed Barney told the council the board intends to formally oppose Sound Transit’s condemnation proceedings of land near the Truman Center alternative high school if the sides can’t reach an agreement by Jan. 27.

Barney said the board has tried to negotiate mitigation for noise, pollution and safety issues, but hasn’t reached a resolution.

Businessman Dan Casey, who helped form Citizens for a Vibrant City Center, a group of business owners and residents opposed to the project, said opposition has grown.

“This is a seminal event for the future of downtown,” he said. “Remember, changing a bad decision and fixing it is always a sign of good government, no matter how far you’ve gone.”

At a Land-Use and Transportation Committee meeting Jan. 12, Mayor Dean McColgan asked whether the council could address citizen concerns, including finding a different site for the transit facility.

Assistant city attorney Karen Kirkpatrick told him there’s nothing city officials can do because the transit center and parking garage was designated an essential public facility by city last year and the land-use permit was issued.

According to case law and the state Growth Management Act, when a city designates a project to be an essential public facility, city officials no longer have the authority to govern siting or to impose all the city codes governing development.

City attorney Pat Richardson declined to comment.

Federal Way residents and businesses last year appealed the designation to city hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux, who ruled the project met the necessary criteria to be an essential public facility. Citizens appealed his decision to the council, which upheld his ruling by a 5-1 vote.

While the Chamber of Commerce and Citizens for a Vibrant City Center have expressed interest in keeping the transit center portion of the project and expanding express bus service from existing, under-used park-and-ride lots in the city, it’s unlikely Sound Transit would be interested in changing course.

Joni Earl, chief executive officer of Sound Transit, said the agency has spent $15 million on property acquisition and design work and is “ready to break ground.” Construction is expected to begin this summer.

Project manager Dan Eder said the project is 100 percent designed. “We are poised and ready to move forward,” he said.

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

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