City eyes old lumber store site for Sound Transit’s second garage

Sound Transit is going to build a second parking garage in Auburn and install non-motorized improvements like shared use paths, transit shelters and intersection improvements in and around downtown Auburn.

That much has been known for more than a year.

On Monday the Auburn City Council unanimously named the former Mel’s Lumber site on 1st Northeast west of City Hall as its preferred option to forward to Sound Transit.

But the traffic congestion such a project would undoubtedly cause, especially worrisome for a site only a block west of busy MultiCare Auburn Medical Center on North Division Street, prompted council members, after extended discussion, to attach the following three conditions proposed by Bill Peloza and Rich Wagner:

1. That a comprehensive traffic study be completed in cooperation with City of Auburn technical staff, and;

2. That proposed congestion and safety mitigation measures be identified; and

3. That the cost of those mitigation measures be professionally estimated to a plus-or-minus-20-percent level of accuracy for the site.

Councilman Claude DaCorsi added that upon completion of an analysis of the traffic study, the council “reserves the right to request additional studies, the results of which will become a key consideration in site selection.”

Auburn Lawn and Garden, the existing Sound Transit surface lot, and Union Hall south of the existing Sound Transit garage were the other three options.

Sound Transit’s board of directors expects to consider the preferred parking garage site next month. At the same time, the board will also consider advancing non-motorized improvements to be included as part of the overall project.

Sound Transit’s budget for the project is $60 million.

For cost comparisons and for any changes it may make to the time schedule, Wagner insisted at last week’s study session that developer Jeff Oliphant’s unsolicited proposal to privately develop a large parking garage on the Mel’s Lumber site and portions of adjacent City-owned street right-of-way be factored into the mix for cost comparisons and for any changes it may make to the time schedule, in time for Monday’s meeting.

Oliphant, president of JLO Washington Enterprises, is the developer responsible for the remodeling of the old Massey’s building into the Auburn Justice Center, and for construction of the 1 Main Professional Building on East Main.

According to Sound Transit, following the completion of this phase of the project, it can sit down with parties such as Mr. Oliphant “consistent with the organization’s guidelines for unsolicited proposals.”

Wagner then asked how much additional time it would need to put out a request for competitive proposals following receipt of an unsolicited proposal and to consider those proposals.

Sound Transit’s answer: it is difficult to estimate a schedule with certainty because the procedure is new, and it has yet to advance any unsolicited proposals.

“…We would estimate an additional 7-9 months to the project schedule to complete the request for proposals. Additionally, there are questions regarding the potential impacts to the environmental schedule and process that could additional time,” Sound Transit responded.

As to how much additional time would be required to build a larger garage, Sound Transit’s answer was that “without specific site information and requirements, it is not possible to determine cost efficiences that may be available.”

Before Monday’s vote, Oliphant made his case for the Mel’s Lumber site, apart from whoever builds a garage there.

“If we want to bring folks to downtown, to the Sound Transit Station, or for any other reason, we need to make it easy for them to get here, and once they get here, a place to park or do whatever they are going to do,” Oliphant said. “And the parking garage, whether it be the smaller one (as he called the Sound Transit proposal) or the larger one (his proposal) is a great means to bring people to downtown, either to get on the train or to do downtown business.”

Oliphant added that the Mel’s Lumber site offered the greatest flexibility of the four, being the only one that could “go larger,” than the 540 net new spaces under Sound Transit or as many as 1,300 total spaces in the expanded garage he has proposed.

“If you don’t choose (the Mel’s Lumber site), consideration, in my opinion, of the larger garage is lost forever because none of the other properties have that ability,” Oliphant said.

Sound Transit launched the alternative development and screening phase of the project in early 2017, and ever since then, the agency, its consultant team and city staff have been working with the City’s Transportation Advisory Board and residents, citizens and businesses to identify potential parking garage sites and options for non-motorized improvements.

The project’s timeline calls for construction to start in 2021 and finish by 2023.

The council anticipated that by last week it would have had in hand a recommendation from the Auburn Transportation Advisory Board, which met on Sept. 27. But the TAB, short at that meeting of the members required to take official action, could not even reach consensus on a preferred site.

Also at the Sept. 27 TAB meeting, City staff, Sound Transit staff and TAB members talked over some of the project issues and reached consensus on the following:

• That the chosen site maximize the parking to be provided;

• That the chosen site minimize the traffic impacts within the city and getting into and out of the garage; and

• That there was a lack support for a parking garage on the existing Sound Transit surface lot or the Union Hall site.