After community outcry, Sound Transit might drop the new Dick’s Drive-In in Kent from the list of possible sites for a light-rail maintenance base.
Hundreds of residents complained about the potential loss of the burger joint, which opened Dec. 12 at 24220 Pacific Highway South, the only Dick’s south of Seattle.
Sound Transit recently listed the location among six possible sites for the train base. The area also includes a Lowe’s home-improvement store, mobile homes and vacant land.
The agency needs to build the maintenance base by 2026, so 140 railcars can be delivered and tested there before light rail reaches Tacoma in 2030.
Sound Transit board member Dave Upthegrove of neighboring Des Moines said he will propose an amendment to remove the Dick’s site from consideration on Thursday during a meeting of the agency’s System Expansion Committee.
“I’m optimistic and hopeful,” he said, but nothing is certain until the vote. Dick’s President Jasmine Donovan agreed Wednesday, saying, “We hope so, we are very hopeful.”
Upthegrove, who is also a Metropolitan King County Council member, met Monday with Donovan and land-use attorney John Hempelmann.
Upthegrove said his main objection wasn’t about the loss of the drive-in, but that a maintenance facility would squander land that should be used for what is known as transit-oriented development (TOD) — apartments, town houses and shops within walking distance of the Kent/Des Moines light-rail station, set to open in 2024.
Upthegrove calls the area the “TOD site,” not the “Dick’s site.”
“To wipe out 30 to 35 acres next to a transit station, when there are other sites, doesn’t make sense and doesn’t fit Sound Transit’s values,” said Upthegrove. Kent rezoned land next to the station as the Midway Transit Community, aiming for as many as 21,000 housing units and jobs.
Upthegrove and Pete von Reichbauer, a transit board and County Council member from Federal Way, both showed up to celebrate the December grand opening of Dick’s. Some 730 people mentioned Dick’s and 350 mentioned Lowe’s during a formal comment period about the maintenance base from February to April, not including another 1,975 earlier emails backing Dick’s and 265 for Lowe’s, a Sound Transit report says.
To scrap that site would leave under consideration two areas at the closed Midway Landfill and three near I-5 in Federal Way.
Des Moines, Kent and Federal Way are all on record favoring the landfill sites, but Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff has warned that to build on a landfill might create environmental costs and risks. The agency struggled against local opposition to establish a train base in Bellevue, which will open in 2023 next to the tech-oriented Spring District.
The Federal Way options for the maintenance base could displace some homes.
Founded in 1954 by the late Dick Spady, the Dick’s Drive-In company owns restaurants in Edmonds, Lake City, Wallingford, Uptown, Capitol Hill and on Holman Road. The concise menu, similar to what it was 65 years ago, features a two-patty deluxe burger for $3.58, including tax, in Kent.
Donovan said she chose the Kent spot because of its proximity to Highline College and the future light-rail station. Unlike the Edmonds roadside store on Highway 99, the Kent drive-in provides a sidewalk and a wheelchair-accessible ramp, she said.
Dick’s owns six acres around the Kent drive-in that the company intends to sell, at a current asking price of $3 million, to finance its next restaurant, Donovan said. Therefore, if Sound Transit keeps the site under study, she said, Dick’s would effectively be unable to raise that money until the agency makes a decision on a site.
Upthegrove, who is a vegetarian, acknowledges that public outrage helped motivate him to oppose a train base there.
“It’s clear my constituents, and constituents throughout the area, don’t like it, and in a democracy, public opinion matters,” he said.