City council favors northward expansion for maintenance facility

Steel Lake Annex area was previously under consideration for the project.

The Federal Way City Council is favoring a northward expansion for the city’s maintenance facility, rather than building a new site in the city.

Their vote March 7 to focus on that option was only a first reading, but councilmembers could finalize plans to expand the facility at their next meeting March 21.

The city had previously considered the Steel Lake Annex area to build a replacement for its crumbling operations and maintenance facility. The city already owned the property, and so expected to save several million dollars using the area, though the idea was criticized by residents who used and loved the park.

But legal obligations raised in public comments and confirmed by city staff made the point financially moot. Federal Way would have been required by the National Park Service to replace every acre of park space removed at the Annex with new park space. The site would have remained feasible, but would have ended up costing around $4 million more than the alternatives, according to the city.

So the matter came before the council at their March 7 meeting to pick between two other options.

Councilmembers Susan Honda and Jack Walsh also thanked members of the public for getting that key information on the Steel Lake Annex to the city, and the city took two options back to the council to consider.

Expanding the existing facility north, which the council landed on, is compatible with existing land use and would have minimal environmental impacts. But the site will also need leveling and will require the city to acquire a larger number of parcels. This was the option the mayor and city recommended, and the council agreed. This option would cost an estimated $41.4 million.

Building a brand new facility at the northeast corner of the South 320th Street and 1st Avenue South intersection, meanwhile, presented environmental issues because much of the area is a wetland. Public commenters also raised concerns about the location, including the traffic and road issues it could bring. But its central location could give maintenance teams better access throughout the city and to City Hall, and it wouldn’t require tearing down any existing buildings. This option would cost an estimated $41.6 million.

The city’s original goal was to start construction in spring 2024. The city is still trying to keep that schedule, public works director EJ Walsh said, despite the hurdles at the Steel Lake Annex site. The council will make its final decision at the next meeting.

In other council action Tuesday

The city council unanimously adopted a suite of city code amendments around food trucks at the March 7 meeting. The changes specify the review process for mobile food vendors and create new regulations based on zoning for those vendors.

And all but two members — Deputy Mayor Susan Honda and councilmember Erica Norton — also voted to update city sign code, allowing businesses to apply for the right to put up particularly iconic signs in the city center area that don’t necessarily meet the city’s sign code. Under the new code, the signs would need to be for businesses at least 20 years old, enhance the look and feel of the city core and not feature any blinking or chasing lights. The motion passed 5 to 2.

The council proclaimed March 2023 as Women’s History Month.

The council unanimously authorized the city to participate in a $19 billion nationwide opioid case settlement against two pharmaceutical companies, Teva and Allergan, and pharmacies CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. The money can be used on efforts to combat the opioid crisis. The city doesn’t have a good estimate yet on how much it will make from the settlement.

The council unanimously approved about $39,000 in funding for a trip by Federal Way executives, councilmembers and the Chamber of Commerce CEO to visit the city’s sister cities in Donghae, Korea, and Hachinohe, Japan. More than half that cost ($22,000) will be for airfare.

The council unanimously approved the city’s federal legislative priorities, which include asking for $200,000 to build electric vehicle charging stations, $2.4 million to expand childcare programs, $4 million for new community and civic spaces, and funding for the Celebration Park turf fields, transportation projects and homelessness programs.

Councilmember Erica Norton attended the meeting remotely.

For your calendar

March 14: Sound Transit hosts a drop-in session to learn and ask questions about the Tacoma Dome Link light rail extension project at the Federal Way Community Center. Event is from 8 to 10 a.m.

March 17: The city will raise the Irish flag at 9 a.m. for the week to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

March 18: The March of Diapers drive, by local nonprofit Do The Right Thing, will collect donations of unopened diapers and wipes for families in need at the Fred Meyer Twin Lakes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The greatest need is for diapers in sizes 3-7 and pull-ups. The drive benefits organizations like the Multi-Service Center, El Centro de La Raza, the South King Food Bank and Fusion. Last year, the drive collected 396,801 diapers in a single month.