Bellevue mayor and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci cast a symbolic 'No' vote today as the ST board voted overwhelmingly to place a 25-acre operations and maintenance facility adjacent to the Spring District, the planned mixed-use development along Bellevue's Bel-Red corridor.
Calling it an "the ironic choice" because transit is supposed be an "incentive for transit oriented development," Balducci said "the trade off is sacrificing the future vision" of Bellevue.
Three sites were up under consideration: a Lynnwood school district property that butted up against a single-family zone and a wetland (and that wasn't big enough to hold storage track); a Bellevue office park known as the Plaza 520 that's home to 100 businesses; and to Balducci and the entire Bellevue City Council's chagrin, the BNSF site across the street from the Spring District, a planned Her-style mixed-use development in the walkshed of the future 120th St. light rail station.
Calling it "the ironic choice" because transit is supposed be an "incentive for transit-oriented development"—the Green Metropolis mash-up concept that puts housing, transit, retail, pedestrian and bike corridors, and jobs all together to foster density—Balducci said "the tradeoff is sacrificing the future vision" of Bellevue.
Balducci called the decision "troubling," noting that the maintenance base would "take a quarter slice" away from the developable land. "One of the very reasons you build a fixed-rail system is because it gives this tremendous incentive for transit oriented, dense, development, that is exactly what we want to see, it's what all our land use plans say we want, it's what we talk about at the Puget Sound Regional Council, and at our cities and at our counties. And we are going to take the most valuable core, the quarter mile around the station, and take a quarter slice out of it, and take it out of play. It's an unfortunate thing to have happen, and I'm going to oppose the selection of this site." (Her Bellevue colleague, City Council member Jennifer Robertson, who testified before the vote, said they would lose 800 multi-family units, 1.8 million square feet of retail and office space, and $6.1 million annually in property, B&O, and sales tax revenue.)
Balducci also complained that Bellevue had been planning the Spring District since 2008 (based on light rail development) and was angry that the Spring District maintenance option had just been brought to their attention in the past year.
Green ST board colleagues such as Washington State Department of Transportation Director Lynn Peterson and Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien voted with majority against Balducci, but made a point of seconding her remarks and expressing frustration over the difficult choice. Mayor Ed Murray voted with the majority as well, but without making any remarks.
Peterson addressed the process issues, saying "the lesson learned" was that Sound Transit needed to update its performance measures when evaluating future projects to "not just be transportation related, [but] actually land use related as well." She summarized today's decision (which she voted for) as "the best transportation choice, but not the best land use choice."
After the board voted to pick the Spring District site, they passed an amendment to study ways to mitigate stymied development potential, by looking at new configurations—moving a maintenance base parking lot, for example building on top of the south portion of the maintenance base. (An Urban Land Institute report commissioned by ST has already begun exploring ways to try and enhance TOD at the BNSF site.)
April Putney, a lobbyist for Futurewise, the state's leading smart growth advocacy group, who characterized the Bel-Red plans as the "largest TO opportunity in the region," was cynical about the mitigation plan. Criticizing ST's planning—and recommending that the agency "adopt stronger TOD [standards] that actually have an impact" she said in the future TOD "shouldn't be a question of mitigating, it should be a question of siting."
However, everyone wasn't as torn up about sacrificing a potential site on future development. Mark Sparks, head of VMG Studio 520, a video production company at the other Bellevue site under consideration, the so-called Plaza 520 site—a low-rise retail and business office park adjacent to an Acura dealership west of 405 and just south of 520 on NE 20th St. at 130th Ave.—noted that "big-money" interests were simply making promises about the Spring District. "Don't turn your back on those who built this community," he said about Plaza 520, noting that 101 existing small and mid-size businesses (including VMG) would have been displaced under the Plaza 520 plan.