Tuesday’s SDOT announcement essentially halving a Neighborhood Street Fund project previously approved for the Westwood area raised some questions. We took them to SDOT.
To recap – the community-proposed, SDOT-approved Chief Sealth Walkway Improvements Project was to create two walkways along 26th and 25th. SDOT’s announcement said the department is dropping the 25th walkway because a development application is expected in the future and the developer would be expected to pay for something similar – though, the city acknowledged, it might be “several years.”
So our first question to SDOT was, with nothing showing publicly in city files, how did the city find out about this development plan and how much of a sure thing is it? This question, and our others, were answered by SDOT spokesperson Norm Mah:
During the summer and fall of 2016 while NSF applications were being developed through conceptual design (before final projects were selected), the design team reviewed active permits for future development around this site and found nothing, leading the team to propose the solution for a pathway on 25th Ave SW. However, the SDOT design team was contacted in the spring of 2017 by an architectural firm who shared preliminary plans for the adjacent parcel on the east side of 25th Ave SW. SDOT’s Street Use division then confirmed that the planned NSF project on 25th Ave SW would be required by code when this development moves forward.
In the interim, SDOT considered low-cost alternatives to improve this pathway for residents of this neighborhood, but any changes SDOT makes to this pathway now could result in the developer not being required to construct permanent improvements in the future. As stated in our outreach letter, we believe that the high likelihood of this development occurring meant that investing public funds at this location right now would not be the best use of public tax dollars.
One reader asked if there was precedent for this.
SDOT projects, including NSF projects, are frequently dropped or adjusted in response to future development. Fortunately, this entire project was not dropped and residents in this neighborhood and Chief Sealth students will still benefit from an improved pathway on 26th Ave SW.
With limited funds for improvements, we need to use public funds carefully to build projects that otherwise would not be constructed. These overlaps are typically found earlier in the project design phase because an active permit is filed.
Speaking of money, we also asked what would be done with the money that now will not be spent on this project. Mah says they don’t know yet:
At this point in the design process it is too early to know how much extra funds are available from the amount we budgeted for this project. We will know more in October and can provide the community with an update at that time.
So, we’ll be checking back. Meantime, the 26th SW walkway is planned for construction next year. (Here’s the original project proposal, as summarized by SDOT for the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council review process.)
P.S. The newly renamed Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Coalition plans to talk about the project during its first fall meeting, next Tuesday (September 5th), 6:15 pm, at Southwest Library (9010 35th SW). The full meeting agenda is in our calendar listing.