SDOT publicly rebukes employee over SODO arena street vacation

The person in charge of street vacation petitions for SDOT was chastised for how Chris Hansen's application was handled.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has publicly rebuked one of it's longtime employees over the handling of the SODO arena street vacation application.

It came as SDOT defended it's handling of Chris Hansen's application for the removal of one block of Occidental Avenue South, which he needs to build an arena on site. Late Thursday, the agency released a timeline and emails which it says shows how it handled the submission.

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The issue became a sore spot this week, after Hansen appealed in person to the City Council to move forward with a conditional approval of the vacation. He did so at a public meeting for the review of the proposed renovation of the KeyArena site at Seattle Center.

Hansen and his investment group say they had been led to believe the process had stalled.

"The City has not prioritized completing its review of the new vacation petition for a proposed SODO arena as the City has been marshalling its resources to consider options for a potential arena at Key Arena," Beverly Barnett, who is in charge of street vacation petitions for SDOT, told KING 5 in August. "The City Council has on its agenda...Resolution 31764 which supports ongoing discussions for a potential arena at the Seattle Center and asks the Mayor to send legislation and a proposed MOU to City Council this fall. Continued review of the SODO vacation petition will be guided by these other actions."

However, on Tuesday prior to the meeting she told Councilmember Sally Bagshaw another story. In the email obtained by KING 5, she wrote that Hansen's camp had not responded to requests for more analysis of transportation concerns and questions from city departments. Barnett wrote Bagshaw that the process could take multiple months to complete.

SDOT spokesperson Mafara Hobson told KING 5 that Barnett erred in her statements about the process.

"Beverly's comments did not accurately reflect the street vacation process nor the City of Seattle's views around the Hansen Development Group's petition," Hobson said. "There is a formal street vacation request process and the department takes each step of that process seriously."

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Hobson also provided what she says is a timeline of the review. She says SDOT met with Hansen's team on January 23 and again on February 8. There were three more meetings in March.

Hobson says Hansen's team was alerted at an April 6 meeting of the Design Commission about the need for additional traffic analysis. The Design Commission, at that meeting, recommended street vacation approval. The meeting minutes show Barnett saying SDOT "have requested information to see if data used for the transportation analysis needs to be updated". According to the SDOT timeline, on April 10, 2017, the agency mailed additional comments to the SODO teams for review, action, and response.

However, Hobson could not provide email documentation or proof that it ever actually occurred. She told KING 5 due to a recent IT threat, emails in that time frame were purged.

Hansen's team says they were never informed of the need for additional documentation, and since Tuesday have talked with Barnett about the path forward. SDOT recommended the elimination of the same block during a public process in 2016. However, the City Council voted 5-4 to reject the application.

Hobson added that now that the two sides talked, and "SDOT stands ready to review the development team’s responses, and move this process on to the next phase."

Meanwhile, the Council is expected to continue reviewing the KeyArena redevelopment proposal, and is still on track for approving a deal by December.