WA: Reaction Cool to Proposed Sound Transit Rail-Yard Sites

June 05--When Sound Transit announced in 2012 that it might place a light-rail train-maintenance yard in Bellevue's Bel-Red Corridor, the City Council objected. At one site, the at-least-20-acre yard would knock out more than 100 businesses. At another, the facility would undercut plans for high-density, mixed-use development.

As Sound Transit prepares to choose a location next month, those sites remain under consideration. But so does a property in Lynnwood, next to the Lynnwood Transit Center, which the Edmonds School District owns and wants to use for its own future transportation facility. That spot would cost Sound Transit $3 million more per year in operating costs than those in Bellevue, and would reduce the frequency of the trains when the Eastside and Lynnwood light-rail extensions are expected to open in 2023.

Sound Transit held a community meeting in Lynnwood on Tuesday night about the yard-location proposals and will solicit comments again at 5 p.m. Thursday at Coast Hotel Bellevue. The last day for public comment on the project is June 23.

In Lynnwood, the Edmonds School District already has invested $14 million in the property, said Stewart Mhyre, the district's executive director for business and operations.

"We've made it very clear to Sound Transit what our intentions are for the site, and we're not interested in any type of negotiation," Mhyre said.

Because the district is a public entity, Mhyre said, eminent domain cannot be used to acquire the property. Sound Transit is studying that issue, said its spokesman Bruce Gray.

Bellevue officials continue to oppose the Bel-Red yard proposals. One is just below Highway 520, east of 130th Avenue Northeast, and another site is just west of 120th Avenue Northeast, in the Spring District along the Eastside Rail Corridor. The latter location includes two different configurations for the yard.

The impact of a yard on the Spring District, no matter what solutions are suggested to better integrate it into the surrounding community, would be immensely damaging to the area's potential, said Chris Salomone, Bellevue's director of planning and community development.

At one site, Salomone said, the removal of more than 100 businesses would create a dead zone. At the other site, the idea of establishing a large maintenance yard would throw cold water on plans to create walkable business and residential areas along the Bel-Red Corridor, he said.

"That's a huge opportunity cost to not only the city, but the entire region," said Salomone. "The whole premise of the planning effort was to create high-density, mixed-use areas -- it's a mutual goal for us and Sound Transit to take advantage of that."

Sound Transit isn't expecting proposals for the yard to be welcome in any Puget Sound-area neighborhood no matter what it does. But the yard must be built somewhere near a light-rail extension expected to be in operation in 2023, said Michael Williams, project director for Sound Transit's maintenance-yard plans.

Sound Transit's maintenance facility in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood cannot accommodate the additional cars needed for the light-rail extensions to Lynnwood and the Eastside.

After Sound Transit's capital committee votes on a site recommendation July10, the Sound Transit board is expected to vote July 24.

Even if the yard could be built along the Lynnwood extension, Sound Transit says it will eventually need an Eastside yard if light rail is later extended from Lynnwood to Everett.

"This decision is not going to become easier as time goes on -- it'll get harder and more expensive," said Gray. "None of these sites are without their challenges. No one's excited about them. But it's what you have to do to run this light-rail system."

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com.

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