Hearing focuses on Sound Transit light rail permits for MLT

The hearing in Mountlake Terrace City Council chambers drew a crowd Thursday night.

Sound Transit faced its final hurdle to starting construction of the Link Light Rail on Thursday, when they presented to a hearing examiner from the city, who will approve or deny some of the last permits needed before construction commences on the Mountlake Terrace Link Light Rail Station.

The city, represented by Christy Osborn, City of Mountlake Terrace Community and Economic Development Director, recommends that hearing examiner Phil Olbrechts approve the applications from Sound Transit overall. The permits include a Conditional Use Permit, approval of the site development plan, and A Critical Areas Reasonable Use Exception.

These allowances, with approval, would let Sound Transit use the land they’ve planned to develop in the way that’s best for the project, regardless of the city’s zoning requirements. Zoning requirements don’t exist for the majority of the light rail’s route, however, because the land falls under federal “right-of-way” land along the I-5 corridor. The Conditional Use Permit and Reasonable Use Exception are only necessary for real land of the city’s that will be affected. The specific sites where private and municipal property will be touched can be found in the city’s Staff Report, and more information can be found in Sound Transit’s Staff Report.

Olbrechts, the hearing examiner, will decide in coming days whether Sound Transit’s Site Development Plan complies with the requirements for the permit and exception. If either were to be denied, it would not stop the project from going forth altogether. This is because the Link Light Rail construction is considered an Essential Public Facility under state law. Olbrechts said this means the city must let the project happen, and its involvement is limited “to mitigating its impacts as much as you can.”

The Site Development Plan, which Sound Transit hopes to have approved by Olbrechts, is a comprehensive summary of exactly how the construction project will impact the land, facilities, and surrounding environment. One element of the plan that the city and Sound Transit disagreed over, was what should happen to the portion of a pedestrian trail that will need to close during construction. The relocated trail will end at a stairwell that is not ADA-accessible, the city says in its staff report. “Per federal guidelines and law, new or replaced public improvements should provide equitable access for all trail users, including those with mobility devices or who can otherwise not use a staircase.”

According to Sound Transit, making the stairwell ADA-compliant would mean building 150 feet of ADA-accessible ramp, with four landings for those with mobility devices to rest on. Sound Transit’s witnesses spoke on this, testifying that the light rail’s construction does not create a need for the ramp because there are other ADA-accessible routes at both entrances to the station. Donna Smith, an expert on accessible transportation who works for Sound Transit, testified that ADA law did not require the construction of a ramp by Sound Transit. Not only would the ramp be “structurally impractical” — a valid exception for ADA compliance — as it would replace parking spots and require 750 square feet of construction, but it would be difficult to travel up. The ramp would have four landings, one every 30 feet of slope, for people with a mobility device to rest on.

Public comment was welcomed after both the city’s and Sound Transit’s presentations. Some citizens submitted written comment prior to the hearing. The city outlined “General Public Comments” in the staff report as including concerns about whether there would be a light rail station at 220th Street Southwest, the “connectivity with local circulator bus routes,” a lack of parking, “disposition of surplus property,” and the impacts of noise. The project’s status, details, graphics, and documents from the hearing can be found here.

– Story and photo by Mardy Harding

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