City Council, Planning Commission have sharp words for Sound Transit on light rail planning

Councilmember Bryan Wahl, center, tells Planning Commission members and city staff it’s critical to keep Sound Transit accountable to the city during the light rail planning process.

When it comes to the siting of Sound Transit’s Mountlake Terrace light rail station, members of the Mountlake Terrace City Council and the city’s Planning Commission didn’t mince words during the council’s Feb. 16 work study session.

Planning commission members held a joint meeting with the council Feb. 16 to talk about 2016 commission accomplishments and its 2017 work plan. When Councilmember Doug McCardle asked for an update on the commission’s work with Sound Transit on the 236th Street Southwest light rail station design, frustration about several issues — including whether additional parking will be provided to relieve the already overcrowded Mountlake Terrace Transit Center — bubbled up.

“I’ve yet to see any meaningful steps for what they’ve been promising for a lot of years,” said Planning Commission Chair Alice Kier. “I’m not only frustrated, I’m disgusted.”

Kier’s blunt remarks came after Planning Commissioner Nick Bautista described his efforts to work with Sound Transit representatives on design of the Mountlake Terrace light rail station, one of four set to open in 2023 as part of the 8.5-mile Lynnwood Link extension.

“What we’ve experienced (with Sound Transit) is that it hasn’t been very collaborative, unfortunately,” Bautista said.

As an example, Bautista described serving on a panel to provide input on selection of an artist who will design the artwork for the 236th Street Station that will be built along Interstate 5. Planning commissioners believe that artwork should play a key role in representing Mountlake Terrace well, both to those who use the station and those who drive by it on the freeway.

Rather than being “a simple piece of art that is off to the side,” Bautista said, “it really needs to not only represent city in good light but visually obscure a large hovering piece of concrete that’s going to be sort of a visual eyesore, to be honest. Art will definitely have a component in reducing that so we feel it’s really important that the artist we select has experience and a good track of being able to do that,” he explained.

Bautista said that none of the artists in the running for the station artwork design will be presenting an actual concept before a final artist is selected. “All we have to go off is previous work we’ve done and what they’ve submitted,” he said. “We can only hope that whatever artist is selected will understand the specific issues that our station has.”

Another issue commissioners are addressing with Sound Transit is to ensure that the logo that will be attached to the station itself will represent the city well. “For the majority of the region who aren’t familiar with our city right now – that little logo is going to be assigned to our station, that is how people are going to be aware of our city,” Bautista said, adding that commissioners have been pushing for the city’s own logo and colors to be included in the design.

Community members reviewing preliminary platform designs during Sound Transit’s November 2016 open house at the Nile Country Club. (File photo by Natalie Covate)

Councilmember Laura Sonmore said that both Mountlake Terrace elected officials and residents provided several ideas for artwork designs during Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link extension open house at the Nile Country Club last fall. Bautista said that so far, that input has not been shared with art selection panel.

“We all support what light rail means and all we’d be asking is that Sound Transit recognize that we want to be willing and working partners with them and they’ve got to be able to work with us too,” Bautista said.

Planning Commissioner Vic Sood said it was important to keep pressing Sound Transit to build an additional light rail station at 220th Street Southwest. That won’t be part of the 2023 construction but is listed as a placeholder on the Lynnwood Link map with the notation, “Includes accommodation for a future station.”

Thanking commissioners for their work and their comments, Councilmember Bryan Wahl brought up another frustration on councilmembers’ minds: Whether Sound Transit will provide more parking to accommodate the additional commuters that the new Mountlake Terrace light rail station will draw.

Wahl noted that the councilmembers had just returned from meetings with state legislators in Olympia, and concerns about Sound Transit were “boiling over into our meetings,” he said. Lawmakers got an earful from councilmembers about the need to provide parking for the light rail station, since the current Mountlake Terrace Transit Center parking garage already is full by 7 a.m. each weekday, Councilmember Seaun Richards said.

Wahl said that state legislators representing Mountlake Terrace “are appreciative of our concerns,” and offered to sign on to a joint letter expressing those concerns to Sound Transit.

Wahl also said he agreed with planning commissioners that the station design is key to the city’s branding. “This station has the potential of being a critically important icon for Mountlake Terrace and a welcome mat,” he said. “This is our opportunity to welcome people to Mountlake Terrace and make a name for ourselves.”

City Economic Development and Community Services Director Steve Osguthorpe told the council that feedback about Mountlake Terrace station design has been provided to Otak, the company hired to provide consulting services to the city — at Sound Transit’s expense — on issues related to station project design and construction. Otak plans to make graphic representations of the desired changes to share with Sound Transit, Osuthorpe said, so that there will be a visual record.

It’s critical to hold Sound Transit accountable, Wahl added. “Because they made promises and we can’t let go of those promises they made to us because we have continually supported them at the ballot box to get them to where they are. And based on those promises…we expect Sound Transit to deliver.”

MLTnews on Friday shared the concerns from the Feb. 17 council meeting with Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason, who said she would work to get a response by early next week.

Also during its Feb. 17  meeting, the council:

– Reviewed 2016 City Comprehensive Plan performance measures.

– Reviewed the city’s Commute Trip Reduction Plan and ordinance and the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee’s 2017 funding recommendation. These two items were approved for referral to the council’s consent agenda for its Tuesday, Feb. 21 business meeting (postponed from Monday due to the Presidents Day holiday).

— Discussed a policy that would prohibit citizens from commenting by telephone during council meetings, with approval to follow at a future meeting.

– The tentative review of a contract for City Hall architectural services was postponed until a later date.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. I really support a policy that does not allow public input by telephone. I believe it is important that face to face communication is maintained and there are weekly council meetings at which the public can make input.

    1. A good point was made that people can already submit comments in via email. I think it isn’t important to have a method of doing so without being present as many (most?) people can’t make it to a weeknight meeting, email seems to be sufficient. I think they can even ask to have the city clerk read the comments at the meeting for the benefit of the public hearing them.

  2. More parking space: I’m glad the Council and Committee pushed ST for this.
    MLT identity/visibility: Ditto. And personally, I like our logo. Why not use it?

  3. More parking means fewer housing units within walking distance of the station and more congestion there from drivers who don’t spend money on the way home from work. Walkable development around stations supports “all day” transit usage, reducing the bane of empty trains during mid-day, evenings and weekends.

  4. Oh, and on the topic of the 220th Station, which I personally support, what is the Mountlake Terrace City Council’s position on the 130th Street Station in Seattle’s? My recollection is that they were in the past opposed to it, though it is expected to draw many more riders than will either Mountlake Terrace station when opened. Metro has already indicated since ST3 passed that it will dramatically revamp service in North King when it becomes available in 2027. Transfers there will be far more convenient for east-west lines than 145th.

    Are infill stations only a good thing “upstream” from one’s own city?

  5. Mountlake Terrace P&R already has overflow parking at the library. Instead of using valuable land within walking distance of the light rail station to house cars, how about improving signage/paths for people walking from there? Also happens to be orders of magnitude cheaper.

  6. More parking would fill up too. It’s not like another big garage would mean anyone could find a spot at 9 a.m. all of a sudden. I suspect folks who take a feeder bus to the transit center would drive instead to the garage.

    So I’d suggest more parking at locations that would offer consistent feeder buses. Say a garage next to Costco at Aurora Village, or along Lake City Way, or Ballinger Way, or 220th.

  7. Parking at Costco at Aurora Village is horrendous as is. I can’t possibly see how they could absorb more parking. The parking lot there is really scary and every time I leave it I tell myself to go to the Costco at Alderwood Mall instead next time.

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