Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff says the agency plans to keep the Dick’s Drive-In/Lowe’s properties in Kent on a list of potential sites for a new light rail operations and maintenance facility.
The agency also has several concerns about whether the former Midway Landfill in Kent could be a suitable location.
Rogoff had a press briefing Thursday afternoon in Seattle in response to Dick’s Drive-In owners and Kent city leaders asking for the site at the southeast corner of South 240th Street and Pacific Highway South be removed from a list of six potential sites. Dick’s Drive-In just opened in December, south of Lowe’s.
“Yes, demolishing a newly built facility would be really unfortunate,” Rogoff said. “But some of the other alternatives involve demolishing a very large church or demolishing dozens of existing neighborhood homes.”
Rogoff didn’t specify the church or neighborhood under consideration. A Sound Transit spokesman said the church is at one of the Federal Way sites (South 336th Street near Interstate 5 or South 344th Street near I-5) and the neighborhood is in unincorporated King County (South 316th Street and Military Road South).
“It’s not easy to locate this facility when you are looking for 30 unobstructed, flat acres near the rail line,” Rogoff said. “This (Dick’s) was one of the six sites that could be reasonable. We are going to study it, we are not selecting it – we are studying it along with other alternative sites.”
Jasmine Donovan, Dick’s Drive-In executive vice president, spoke at a press conference on Thursday morning in efforts to get the restaurant’s property removed as a potential site.
“It would be devastating to our employees and our customers if this restaurant were torn down,” Donovan said as Kent Mayor Dana Ralph stood by her outside of Dick’s. “It breaks our heart that Sound Transit is considering taking this away to build a maintenance facility.”
Dick’s also owns 6 acres behind its restaurant that it hopes a developer will turn into a mixed-use project. The light rail line will pass near the site as it heads toward I-5 from 30th Avenue South.
Sound Transit has an operations and maintenance facility in South Seattle and is building a similar facility in Bellevue to handle light rail expansion. The agency needs another maintenance facility on the south end to handle more light rails cars as it extends the system from SeaTac to Federal Way by 2024 and to the Tacoma Dome by 2030.
Former landfill site examined
Kent city leaders and Donovan have said they want Sound Transit to build the facility on the former Midway Landfill that sits west of Interstate 5 and east of Pacific Highway South between South 246th and South 252nd streets.
“This landfill has been studied extensively,” Ralph said at the morning press conference. “We know that it’s safe, and we have examples all over our region of where landfills have been repurposed and turned into community assets.”
Rogoff, however, said the agency has several concerns about building on the landfill, which closed in 1983 and covers 60 acres.
“A number of people have spoken in favor of perhaps locating the site at the landfill, and that is one of the sites we will consider,” Rogoff said. “But people need to understand that landfill site is a Superfund site, and building on that site could pose significant environmental risks – not just to neighbors – but to our workers.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the landfill as contaminated by hazardous waste. The site has been cleaned up and is monitored, which Kent city officials claim make it ready for development.
Rogoff said costs to develop the landfill could be prohibitive.
“Our preliminary analysis indicates that locating the maintenance facility by having to build over the landfill could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs in comparison to some of the other sites under consideration,” Rogoff said. “That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs that would have to be paid by taxpayers across King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. … The landfill site is not an easy solution. … We will consider it and evaluate it, just like we will the Dick’s site and the other sites.”
City acts to rezone property
The Kent City Council on Tuesday night adopted an emergency zoning ordinance to prohibit an operations and maintenance facility at the Lowe’s/Dick’s site but would allow it at the landfill site. That zoning change will be discussed in detail at a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at City Hall. Donovan encouraged supporters of the drive-in to attend the meeting.
Rogoff said the zoning change won’t deter Sound Transit from the Dick’s site.
“It’s never easy to locate a maintenance facility,” Rogoff said. “We’ve had experience locating them in Seattle and Bellevue. It’s an involved process. Frankly, local zoning is an important factor in these considerations but it’s not the final word. We have been in court over things like this in the past.”
When asked about potential legal challenges by the city of Kent over the site, Rogoff didn’t shy away from conflict.
“We are not going to eliminate it because of a threat of a court order or a threat of court action,” Rogoff said.
The CEO said Sound Transit is required by law to consider numerous sites. The Sound Transit Board is expected in April to consider which sites will move into the next phase, which includes environmental review. The board won’t pick a site until those studies are done and public meetings are held. A decision by the board is expected in about two years.
“We look at the disturbance to communities and to businesses, we look at the feasibility of the site itself – depending on how far away it is from the rail line and how much additional track needs to be built – there are a multitude of factors that need to be taken into consideration, and they will all be studied,” Rogoff said.
Residents and business owners will get a chance to speak at public meetings.
“We are just beginning this process, and the public will be involved in deciding which site options we study further,” he said.
List of sites meets certain criteria
King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove, whose District 5 includes Kent’s West Hill and the Lowe’s/Dick’s site, also serves as an appointed Sound Transit Board member. He said during a phone interview he doubts Sound Transit can remove the site from the list of six.
“For Sound Transit staff to remove a site following analysis that meets the criteria could call the process into question,” Upthegrove said.
Upthegrove added that because the six sites met the initial criteria, to arbitrarily remove a site could lead to legal challenges by property owners who remain on the list.
Upthegrove said he has heard the concerns from Dick’s Drive-In and Kent city leaders and will make sure those concerns are heard by the full board. He said he has questions as well about the economic impact to the Lowe’s/Dick’s site.
“I just don’t know of a mechanism to pull it off (the list),” Upthegrove said. “It would take board action, and I’m not sure the other board members would risk the integrity of the process.”
Upthegrove said besides himself and Pete von Reichbauer, a King County Councilman from Federal Way, most of the rest of the board members from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties won’t face direct impact on residents or businesses they represent.
A Lowe’s media representative didn’t respond to an email from the Kent Reporter for comment about Sound Transit’s interest in the property. Lowe’s is built on the former Midway Drive-In movie site that operated from about 1940 to the 1990s. The site was a swap meet location for about 15 years before Lowe’s was built.
Construction to extend the light rail line 7.8 miles from SeaTac to Federal Way is expected to start later this year and be completed in 2024. The line will include light rail stations in Kent near 30th Avenue South and Pacific Highway South as well as South 272nd Street near I-5.