Sound Transit is preparing to acquire land in Federal Way to be used for the expansion of light rail from Kent to the Federal Way Transit Center.
Called the Federal Way Link Extension, Sound Transit expects the project to be complete by 2024, with construction scheduled to begin in 2019.
Sound Transit officials told the Federal Way City Council on Tuesday they will start to send “letters of notification” on April 11 to those who will be affected by their property acquisition.
“Some of your constituents may come up to you at some point, maybe right in the grocery store or something, and say, ‘Hey, I got this letter from Sound Transit. I’m not quite sure what it means,’ ” Sound Transit Executive Project Director Dan Abernathy told council members at their regular meeting. “We’ve been working very hard on our outreach, making sure we’re reaching out to each one of our neighborhoods that are potentially affected, having conversations, making sure we’re answering their questions. We will continue to do that throughout the life of our acquisition, design and construction process.”
Councilwoman Susan Honda said, however, that during a recent lunch at a local restaurant that would be affected by the project, she learned business owners weren’t as informed as Sound Transit indicated.
“The manager, owner today, when I asked what their plans are, she said she hasn’t really heard from you guys for a long time, and she knows she won’t be able to stay there and that she can’t afford to relocate in Federal Way because it’s so expensive,” Honda said. “So, how do you guys help someone like that?”
Abernathy said each relocation plan is very individualized to meet that business owner or resident’s needs and suggested business owners request an in-person, one-on-one meeting if they need more information. He also noted Sound Transit is beginning a new round of outreach.
Chelsea Levy, Sound Transit’s government and community relations officer, said Sound Transit is required by law to pay fair market value for properties it acquires and that appraisals “always stay current.”
According to the Environmental Impact Study for the entire project, 196 residential homes will be affected, while 42 business will need to relocate.
Things got heated, however, after Councilwoman Dini Duclos asked about one of Sound Transit’s funding models – the motor vehicle excise tax – and whether it accounted for the age of the vehicle. Levy said it does, but the current collection schedule does not depreciate vehicles as quickly as the schedule that will go into place after 2028, the date the original bonds will be paid off.
“You know, it’s a real shame things weren’t made clear to people when this project was started because I think people feel they’re getting really ripped off when they can’t get the same value for their car that they have to pay you for Sound Transit, and a lot of people won’t even be around by the time Sound Transit gets down here to this end,” Duclos said. “… And I will remind you that the people of Federal Way did not vote for ST3.”
Councilman Martin Moore also had concerns.
“Clearly, you guys are going to be utilizing a lot of property, and I think it’s imperative you listen to the community about the needs and what it’s disgruntled with,” Moore said. “Because when you guys have built, and you guys are ready to pack up your bags, someone’s going to have to sell that property, and I just want to make sure you’re hearing our citizens and working with our businesses.”
Councilman Mark Koppang questioned the plan for Federal Way’s downtown station, as Sound Transit will be using the property as a construction staging zone. He said the location of the zone is near Town Square Park and the soon-to-be-built Performing Arts and Event Center, but also, once turned into a construction site, it is “removed from the Federal Way tax rolls.”
Abernathy said Sound Transit can do some things to mitigate the site. For instance, he said a site in Seattle’s Capitol Hill was fenced with an “art fence” that had windows allowing people to watch the construction. Additionally, he said he would provide council with a “good staging plan” on the speed in which they can release the parcels for commercial use.
“You can create a lot of good will by having a good plan and executing on that,” Koppang said. “I think the votes have been done, so now it’s time to move forward. I think we all recognize that, but, again, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t hold you guys accountable to minimize the impact for our citizens in this area.”
Levy and Abernathy assured the council they were partners and that their weekly meetings with the city ensured they would work together. Looking forward, Levy also told the council they would ask cities for their input when it came time to develop their surplus property that comes from the various construction sites, as there is a clause in ST3 that 80 percent of their surplus properties in the district, which spans across the Puget Sound, must be offered to qualified affordable housing developers who are required to offer housing to residents who make 80 percent of the area median income.
“It is up to the board, the Sound Transit Board, over the next year to really take that high-level policy statement and interpret that in a more detailed implementation plan and policy for Sound Transit around surplus property and [transit-oriented development] interests,” Levy said, noting it will be discussed and debated over the course of the year.
Moore warned Sound Transit to “really communicate” with the city in regard to low income housing because it is a “huge concern” in Federal Way, adding that sometimes he feels like Sound Transit doesn’t hear the city’s voices.
For more information on the Federal Way Link Extension, visit www.soundtransit.org/Projects-and-Plans/Federal-Way-Link-Extension.