The Sound Transit board Thursday selected the site of the old BNSF rail yard in Bellevue — next to the planned $2.3 billion Spring District development — as the preferred location for a new 25-acre light-rail maintenance yard.
A final decision is expected in late 2015, after environmental reviews of the site.
Many in Bellevue have complained that placing the maintenance yard at the old BNSF site would undercut plans to turn the mostly industrial Bel-Red Corridor into a lively, high-density, mixed-use development.
At the meeting, Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, a Sound Transit board member, called the choice ironic since light rail is meant to generate transit-oriented development in the corridor. She voted against the motion, which passed 15-3.
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“We have put so much work and effort into planning for a wonderful, unique transit-oriented development opportunity there,” Balducci said about the Bel-Red Corridor after the meeting. “We want light rail in Bellevue, it is going to be a tremendous asset to our city. … I wish we had found a better site for the maintenance aspect — we didn’t, and we are going to make the best we can out of it.”
The BNSF site is west of 120th Avenue Northeast, adjacent to existing railroad tracks on land already partially owned by Sound Transit — and across the street from the planned mixed-use urban village known as The Spring District, to be developed by Wright Runstad and Shorenstein Properties.
The 36-acre district, which takes in the future 120th Avenue Northeast light-rail station, is expected to be complete by 2028. The developers say it could bring 13,000 office workers, more than 2,000 residents, stores, restaurants and a hotel to the 16-block area less than two miles east of downtown Bellevue.
Wright Runstad President Greg Johnson was not available for comment Thursday.
Although the rail yard wouldn’t be on their property, Wright Runstad and Shorenstein have said that placing a sprawling maintenance facility near a light-rail station goes against the vision for a densely developed area and could dampen interest in The Spring District.
The current Sound Transit maintenance facility in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood cannot accommodate the additional cars needed for the planned light-rail lines to Lynnwood and the Eastside, to open in 2023.
Anticipating the need for another rail yard, Sound Transit staff had presented the board with three options: two in the Bel-Red Corridor and one in Lynnwood.
The Sound Transit board decided against the Lynnwood site, which the Edmonds School District owns and wants for its own transportation facility.
In Bellevue, the site not chosen — just below Highway 520 and east of 130th Avenue Northeast — would have displaced more than 100 businesses at Plaza 520.
The board did not detail why those two site were rejected.
Andrea Duffield, owner of MOSAIC Children’s Therapy Clinic at Plaza 520, said she is excited the 520 location was not selected but doesn’t think the site next to The Spring District is the best place for the rail yard.
She, like many who spoke against various proposals, said she hopes the rail yard will end up as more than just a concrete enclosure.
“It should really be a multiuse facility … where it is not just a rail yard, but a building over the top of the rail-yard area with things to make it more community friendly,” she said.
With the same concerns, Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler, also a board member, proposed — and the board accepted — an amendment to ensure transit-oriented development is maximized on the site of the facility.
The board unanimously authorized Sound Transit board Chairman Dow Constantine, the King County executive, to appoint up to three members to work with Sound Transit staff and members of the Bellevue City Council to resolve concerns associated with the choice.
Constantine appointed himself, Butler and Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts to that panel.
“I firmly believe, based on what has already been done, that we have the ability to have both the excellent maintenance facility and the kind of transit-oriented development that is anticipated under the current Bellevue plan,” Constantine said after the meeting.
The board chose the less expensive of two parcels within the BNSF site. Estimated cost is $345 million.