KENT, Wash. — The City of Kent was blindsided by a Sound Transit proposal that could shutter several existing businesses, according to Mayor Dana Ralph.
The plan – which lists six possible sites for a new light rail maintenance facility – could potentially close a brand-new Dick’s Drive-In.
Ralph said Sound Transit approached the city with the list of sites in November, just weeks before the burger joint was set to open.
“We were shocked,” she said. “Asked if that was the correct thing, those kind of questions. It was a big surprise, especially knowing how far along they were in the process.”
The new operations and maintenance facility is necessary to support LINKs southern expansion to the Tacoma Dome. Ralph said it’s a complicated situation – light rail will benefit Kent, but they worry the facility placement would displace a Lowe’s, Dick’s, and several other businesses.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “We want to support transit. And that essentially cuts everything to the south off there when you have that kind of facility.”
This week, the city council unanimously passed a zoning change that would push Sound Transit away from the Lowe's site, and towards another - Midway Landfill. The landfill is an EPA-designated Superfund cleanup site.
It would meet Sound Transit’s requirement of 30 relatively-flat acres, Ralph said. But Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff sees issues with the alternative.
“People need to understand that this would require building over a Superfund site with potential environmental risks,” he said. “Also, our initial analysis suggests that building on this Superfund site could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than alternative sites. That is hundreds of millions of dollars that would have to be paid by taxpayers throughout King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.”
He also noted that no final site decisions have been made – and more possibilities could be added.
“We are just beginning this process and the public will be involved in deciding which site options we study further,” said Rogoff. “I am as much a fan of Dicks as anyone. But the law requires us to evaluate a range of alternative sites when we start this process.”
Dick’s issued a letter in response – saying: "On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of customers we’ll serve and the thousands of employees we’ll train and help to graduate over the next 65 years, we ask you to please remove the Midway Shopping Center and our brand new and only location in the South Sound from consideration."
Ralph said while they want to protect the new restaurant, she feels the focus there is reductive of the city’s efforts in the area.
“That’s the other piece I’m a little bit frustrated about – we’ve heard from Sound Transit that this is all about saving hamburgers, and it’s more about our vision for that area and what Midway can potentially be and how we know it’s going to change when light rail does come there.”
She went on to say if Sound Transit does use eminent domain to take the Lowe’s/Dick’s site, the city is prepared to take the fight to court. Though she noted they hope to resolve it long before it reaches that point.
Some time remains on that. Sound Transit must now conduct an environmental impact study on the site options.