WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Avalon-area neighbors’ fact-finding meeting with Sound Transit

(Sound Transit graphic from October 2019 board meeting)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Eight months after the Sound Transit Board decided to add the “Yancy/Andover Elevated” route to the list of possibilities, some of the West Seattleites who might be in its path are just learning about it.

A group of neighbors in the area west of Avalon Way, including 32nd SW, is meeting weekly to talk about it, and more than 50 of them had an online meeting with Sound Transit reps this past Monday night. We were invited to cover it.

They’re not trying to derail light rail – but they want to understand this potential alignment, how it would affect their neighborhood, and how best to get involved in the review process.

“It feels really terrible to suddenly find out that your house or condo might be taken away from you,” said neighbor M in opening remarks. She expressed frustration that they hadn’t had direct contact from ST, with many feeling “marginalized and concerned” that they were just now finding out about the Yancy/Andover option.

It was a late addition to what’s being officially considered, added in October (WSB coverage here), with support from – among others – a vocal group of Youngstown-area residents who were worried about other alternatives taking out their homes. The board added it despite ST staff’s warning that piling another alternative onto the stack that was already in for environmental studies would delay the Draft Environmental Impact Statement’s release from the end of this year to the first quarter of next year. One attractive point of Yancy/Andover: It wasn’t expected to cost extra.

This option officially emerged last September (WSB coverage here), almost four months after the board finalized what it wanted to send into environmental studies, while directing staff to “assess” a few other possibilities to potentially add to those studies. An “online open house” ensued once those assessments were made public,

So now, halfway through the year that ST is devoting to initial environmental studies of potential West Seattle “alignments,” the Avalon neighbors are catching up. Inviting ST to last Monday’s meeting was a kickoff to what they hope will be an ongoing conversation with the transit system. Starting things off was ST’s Leda Chahim, who used this slide deck:

Note the caveat “project scope and schedule subject to change” – that’s a nod to the realignment process we’ve been covering, with the possibility of delays or even downsizing because of a big drop in revenue; the ST Board isn’t going to make a realignment decision until this time next year, though, so it’s continuing to plan projects including the West Seattle extension that were part of the ST3 plan passed by voters in 2016.

Chahim recapped the process so far, including that October decision to study the Yancy/Andover option too. It would cross the Duwamish River south of the West Seattle Bridge, would have a Delridge station north of Andover – similar to the original ST proposal – and would connect to an elevated Avalon station

What happens next? ST’s Zack Ambrose took the baton there. The next milestone is publishing the draft EIS early next year, with a 45-day comment period. The final EIS in 2022 will be followed by a board decision of what alignment to build – at least that’s the current timeline, if realignment doesn’t push it back.

ST’s Jason Hampton explained what’s being studied in the draft EIS. He showed the options being considered specifically in these neighbors’ area of interest, including points such as noting that elevated stations – such as the one this alignment would place along Delridge between Dakota and Andover – would be “30 to 50 feet [high] at the platform.”

Displacement – a major concern for this group – is part of what the DEIS will address. Late this year, before the DEIS is published, ST will send “the first of many letters” to potentially affected property owners. There would be notification after the DEIS too, as well as another round once the board finalizes “the project to be built.”

ST’s property specialist Mike Bulzomi went through how the acquisition process works (as he had for another group in March 2019), with the caveat that “we’re quite a ways away” from that process actually begins. What ST offers includes relocation support, moving expenses, more. They would pay the difference if a comparable house you bought cost more than your house sold for. For renters, they would cover the differential cost – assuming your new apartment rented for more than your old one – for 3 1/2 years.

Then it was Q&A time.

Q: What about the West Seattle Bridge closure – could the light-rail bridge be combined with a replacement? Chahim said that much remains to be looked at before any such consideration, and also noted again that the ST realignment process could throw any timeline synergy into question.

Q: Why was the West Seattle Bridge/Fauntleroy option not considered? A: The potential station location wouldn’t have worked out.

Q: Would the “preferred alternative” cut into the golf course? A: There are multiple Genesee alternatives being studied – one that does affect the golf course a bit, one that does not.

Q: Would the Avalon path knock down apartment buildings? How do they decide between that and knocking down hoses? A: A variety of data they’ll have with the DEIS next year helps inform that process.

Q: How would the line cross Fauntleroy Way in the cut-station option? A: It would be “below the roadway, under 35th.”

Q: Was there public comment on the Yancy/Andover option? A: It was added by the board, to be studied, and the next round of public comment is after the DEIS is published, Chahim said.

Q: Are property addresses listed in publicly available DEIS materials, for possibly affected properties? A: Bulzomi said parcel #’s are usually the identification used, not the street addresses.

As the meeting wrapped up, neighbors – more than 60 had joined by the meeting’s end – asked for more technical details. This was “the first blush of a conversation,” as it was summarized. They hope to meet again with ST soon to dig more deeply into what it would mean for their neighborhood if the Yancy/Andover alignment is what the board decides to build – a decision that’s at least two years away.

14 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Avalon-area neighbors' fact-finding meeting with Sound Transit"

  • Joe Z July 4, 2020 (8:49 am)

    As a resident of the 32nd block, thanks for covering this. The particular frustration is that many of us have participated in every comment period and attended many of the public meetings and yet we were completely taken aback when a new Yancy/Andover alternative appeared in the DEIS with no public comment period. A number of homes are in the path of this line that would not have been affected by any of the Level 1 or Level 2 alternatives (the original Yancy/Andover was a tunnel).

    When the “orange line” was proposed, residents were given several opportunities to participate in comment periods. Every single one of the Level 2 alternatives went up Genesee so it was assumed by our neighborhood that the Genesee route was decided and the only question affecting us was tunnel or not. For the elevated/trench Yancy-Andover we are simply told to wait for the DEIS, but all indications are that it is the favorite to be selected and we will be referred to the property acquisition team. So it is frustrating that we were not included in the decision that lead to that addition between the time it was recommended by the board (Oct 2019) and added to the DEIS (Jan 2020). Plus we have been made aware aware that Sound Transit has been providing detailed engineering documents (including the EXACT planned location of the track and elevated columns) to other stakeholders on Delridge. Requests to see similar diagrams affecting our property have gone unanswered so far.

    What it all suggests is that the stakeholders with $ and/or political influence have already decided that Yancy/Andover is the preferred route and I expect the DEIS to reflect that. 

  • Also John July 4, 2020 (9:02 am)

    I’m crossing my fingers that WS will still get a light rail.  Covid-19 has greatly reduced money needed to support light rail.    I’ve been attending every downtown and West Seattle light rail meeting for what must be two years now.  I’d hate to see all of ST’s work and an easier way to get around go down the drain.

  • KM July 4, 2020 (11:06 am)

    “Q: Would the Avalon path knock down apartment buildings? How do they decide between that and knocking down ho(u)ses?” I hope that when ST weighs this consideration, it’s weighted to prevent the fewest people from being displaced, regardless of their ownership status and residence type. 

  • MP July 4, 2020 (5:24 pm)

    A gondola would avoid much of the displacement of housing and be more affordable: https://www.theurbanist.org/2020/03/12/gondolas-rise-above-west-seattle-st3-controversy/  and could potentially be finished before the bridge gets fixed.

  • Jonah July 4, 2020 (8:31 pm)

    KM. You willing to look affected people in the eye and tell them that?.

  • mark47n July 5, 2020 (11:13 am)

    With every inch built up in the Seattle area some homes are going to be torn down.  It may be a tired old saw but to make an omelet you need to break a few eggs.

    • East Coast Cynic July 6, 2020 (7:09 am)

      And the people who will have their homes and condos torn down will be compensated at fair market value.  It’s not as if they are going to be left holding the bag of a mortgage without any way of paying it back.

  • edrdvm July 5, 2020 (4:37 pm)

    Don’t we have this really expensive tunnel boring machine?  Why not place all of this rail underground like many major cities do?

    • WSB July 5, 2020 (4:57 pm)

      Bertha has long since been dismantled.

  • KLC July 5, 2020 (9:23 pm)

    The day they decide to chop West Seattle in half with an ugly, noisy, dirty elevated rail line, is the day I sell out (two properties). How’d that work for Seattle when they chopped it in half with the 1-5?  

    • Nick July 7, 2020 (9:52 am)

      You mean the reason Cap Hill wasn’t demolished for high rise lifeless condos. 

  • Mike Monteleone July 5, 2020 (9:53 pm)

    Why isn’t anyone advancing the ITT plan put forth by Bob Ortblad and Shiv Batra? Forget gondolas and elevated lines and especially crazy expensive boring machines. Seems like a no brainer yet did the ST board even mention it?https://omny.fm/shows/seattles-morning-news-with-dave-ross/bob-ortblad-on-replacing-the-west-seattle-bridge-w

    • Nick July 7, 2020 (10:02 am)

      Disturbing the Duwamish and the surrounding approach area is nightmare fuel. When you trench in like that you open up the possibility of massive delays due to archaeological finds, contaminated materials, etc. There’s fish passage issues with the river and a steep fee to pay anytime you might need to move a barge and the Duwamish need to move their nets. Or you can just build a bridge and wash your hands of any of that liability. 

  • StupidinSeattle July 6, 2020 (5:33 pm)

    From the same rogue Government agency that steals taxpayer money with an extremely unfair and outdated auto depreciation schedule comes the promise of “fair and reasonable” compensation for people’s homes and private property.  No surprise that Sound Transit is stomping all over these poor people without directly communicating to property owners.  It’s the ST m.o. everywhere they go.

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