If the letter from a Seattle land-use attorney results in an appeal, it could threaten the ability to finalize a renovation of the arena by October 2020 — also endangering the possibility of an NHL team coming to town for the 2020-21 season.
A major challenge to an environmental impact study (EIS) of the proposed $600 million KeyArena renovation has been launched by the corporate owners of two apartment complexes adjacent to the venue claiming the entire process is flawed.
In a wide-ranging, 17-page letter, Seattle land-use lawyer Courtney Kaylor, representing the owners of the Expo and Astro apartment complexes, writes that a draft version of the EIS “is replete with incomplete and inconsistent statements’’ and should be “revised and republished and subject to additional public comment.’’
Kaylor argues that since KeyArena is city-owned, the EIS should treat it as a “public project” requiring the examination of alternative arena sites under state law. The failure to do that alternative-site study, she adds, means the process “is therefore inadequate on its face.’’
Her letter was the only one among dozens of public comments submitted to the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections that questions the legal validity of the process and appears in tone and scope to lay the groundwork for a possible EIS appeal once a final version is published by September.
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And while a spokesman for one of the buildings said Friday he supports the renovation and doesn’t intend to delay it, the letter’s terming of the EIS as “inadequate on its face” is grounds through which an appeal would be filed.
Any such appeal would delay final approval of the EIS by several months and threaten the ability to finalize a renovation of the arena by October 2020. The city of Seattle and the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) want construction to begin by November so KeyArena can be remodeled in time for a National Hockey League (NHL) expansion franchise — expected to be awarded to Seattle this fall — to begin play there for the 2020-21 season.
Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the city’s Construction and Inspections Department, said a local hearing examiner would hear any appeals challenging the EIS. “This could add at least four months to the schedule and would not allow construction permits to be issued until resolved,’’ he said by email.
Lance Lopes, director of OVG’s Seattle operation, said the company had no comment on the letter and how an appeal might affect the project’s timeline.
Kaylor did not respond to a request for comment. Her firm, McCullough Hill Leary, has represented San Francisco-based entrepreneur Chris Hansen for years in all land-use matters pertaining to his efforts to build an arena in the city’s Sodo District. Hansen has petitioned the city to reconsider selling him part of Occidental Avenue South so that he can complete the land acquisitions needed to build his arena.
Rollin Fatland, a spokesman for Hansen’s arena group, said Friday the group had nothing to do with the latest submission. Hansen’s land-use lawyer, Jack McCullough, did not respond to a request for comment.
McCullough had submitted three pages of comments to the city on behalf of Hansen’s company, Horton Street LLC, during the EIS scoping period last October. Scoping is intended to help identify and narrow the issues in an EIS to those that are significant.
The letter he sent then touched on many of the same arguments Kaylor’s does now on behalf of the apartment complexes, including that the renovation is a “public project’’ requiring study of an alternative site.
But McCullough and Hansen did not follow up with any public-comment submissions after a draft version of the EIS was released in April.
The city of Seattle and OVG say theirs is a “private project” for EIS purposes, with private money financing the $600 million renovation. Redoing the EIS from private to public at this stage would cause an even longer delay than an appeal and make it impossible to complete construction by October 2020.
The Expo apartments are owned by Essex Queen Anne LLC, a corporation with a parent company based in the San Francisco suburb of San Mateo. The Astro apartments are owned by SRMQA LLC, whose parent is a well-known local developer, SRM Development.
Ryan Leong, SRM’s chief operating officer and real estate principal, issued a statement to The Seattle Times on Friday, saying: “We are extremely supportive of the proposed renovation and believe it will certainly provide a long-term benefit to the greater Seattle community as well as the Uptown community in which it is located.
“We have no interest in opposing or delaying the project,’’ the statement adds. “We are concerned with the management of the noise, traffic and other negative impacts during construction. These impacts will … particularly impact our residents as they are directly adjacent to this work.’’
The statement goes on to say that “construction work needs to be properly managed’’ and that OVG has since contacted SRM about a meeting later this month, which they plan to attend. Leong’s statement indicated his company had not previously contacted OVG with concerns, but insisted it was not involved with Hansen or any of his representatives.
Representatives of Essex Queen Anne did not respond to comment requests left with their local office. Neither company submitted comments to the city during last fall’s EIS scoping period.
Kaylor’s letter goes in-depth into concerns about construction noise, vibration impacts and traffic and parking issues that could adversely affect nearby tenants. But the letter also touches on more general issues that have little to do with the individual buildings — things like affordable housing, relocation of Seattle Center nonprofits and arts groups, Monorail plans, the future of music festivals like Bumbershoot, and the city’s goals regarding landing an NBA franchise.
Deborah Frausto, an executive with the Uptown Alliance community association, said property managers from both apartment buildings have attended recent meetings held by her group and OVG. Frausto said she has seen Kaylor’s EIS letter and agreed “there are some things that maybe went a little further than just talking about the impacts on the apartment buildings’’ but otherwise feels many of the concerns are valid ones that tenants should want mitigated.
“I actually think that if I was a renter there, I would be glad that I had an owner that was paying attention,’’ Frausto said. “I can’t imagine trying to rent apartments during the two years of construction. It’s going to be tough.’’
Previous public comments submitted by those connected to both apartment buildings have been more narrow in scope.
Debbie Green, a property manager for the Expo building, spoke at a May 14 public hearing on the EIS at the Seattle Armory. According to a transcript of the event, she asked on behalf of tenants whether a viewing platform to be built on the arena’s north side could be removed from the plans.
“This area already has an abundance of both homeless and criminal activity at all times of day and night,’’ she said. “And so, we suggest that, that area should not encourage the loitering that we see now.’’
The only public EIS comment from a tenant came from Astro resident Scott Irwin, who wrote May 18 that while he favors the KeyArena renovation, he’s concerned about keeping a row of First Avenue trees intact. “This double line of foliage helps buffer sound and provides extra privacy from a busy area. With the renovation, I expect it will become busier and louder.’’
Read the full EIS