King County is located on Puget Sound in Washington State, and covers more than 2,200 square miles. Its population is more than 1.7 million, ranking twelfth most populous in the nation. King County also contains Seattle, the state’s largest city.
Within the executive branch of the King County general purpose government is the Department of Transportation (DOT), which administers county bus transit service. Regional rail transit is still in the construction phase, so the county bus transit system remains the primary resource for commuters. Being the primary transit agency in the county, DOT owns and operates an extensive network of park-and-ride properties within the centers of suburban cities throughout the county.
County government is also responsible for implementation of the State Growth Management Act (GMA), which calls for growth to be concentrated in urban centers within suburban cities throughout the county. Existing transit routes connect the suburban city centers, and by extension, the county owned park-and-rides within those city centers.
Under the GMA, suburban cities are obligated to meet housing targets within their urban centers. As such, a natural collaboration evolved between suburban cities and the county to satisfy housing targets using county property currently utilized solely for park-and-rides. Renton is one of the suburban cities obligated by the GMA to meet housing targets, and thus had an incentive to work with the county on a project that would add density to its downtown center.
In 1997, the county legislative branch established the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Program, which was placed within the director’s office of the Department of Transportation. The TOD program was charged with developing projects in concert with suburban cities by utilizing county properties for transit-supportive uses. The TOD program was seen as an important tool in helping the county and suburban cities satisfy GMA requirements.
The TOD program was placed in the capital budget of the Department of Transportation and initially funded at $1 million per year, including three full-time project manager positions. The city of Renton was selected as one of the TOD pilot project sites due to its potential for mixed-use downtown development near a transit center.
The city of Renton was enthusiastic about being a pilot site for TOD. The city’s goal was to introduce multi-family housing to its city center while relocating existing auto dealerships to a busy arterial outside the downtown core, but within the city limits. The housing development would help the downtown core revitalize, the city would be meeting GMA density requirements, but not lose the auto businesses that generate healthy sales tax revenue.
The existing county park-and-ride near downtown Renton was at full capacity. The only way to increase capacity would be to build over the existing lot. The city was opposed to adding more capacity to an already crowded lot that was not zoned for housing.
A better solution emerged two miles away, within the original pre-World War II downtown core. The city was actively involved in restoring the downtown to its original state, with store front retail, small parks and pedestrian safety. The county was already in the design phase of a new bus transit center in the downtown that would further enhance the convenience of living and working in the downtown. To support the transit presence, the city purchased the land for the new county transit center from an auto dealer.
Across the street from the new transit center was another auto dealer (Good Chevrolet) seeking to move out of the downtown. Due to its close proximity to a new transit center, the potential site would also be suitable for additional park-and-ride capacity. Two blocks away, Dally Homes, a private developer, was already building a 110-unit residential project. Dally had already looked at the Chevrolet site for multi-family housing, but could not afford to build the parking to support the development.