Chapter 23.80 Essential Public Facilities: Seattle could push Sound Transit to the table

Westlake Monorail Station: an essential public facility?

Chapter 23.80 marks the end of Subtitle IV, Division I and the end of what might be called the substantive portions of the code. I’m just about done folks. My goal is to mostly finish this off this week, and then regale you with my thoughts on what we should do going forward. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like. You’d think the “essential public facilities” would merit better treatment than to be at the tail end of the code. But this last chapter is a funny one and seems responsible to the requirements of state law. What’s an essential public facility? Apparently, reading through this section the answer is light rail and monorail facilities.

I’m not totally sure but this chapter seems a bit of backwater. It may be that it is required by RCW 36.70A.200 titled “Siting of essential public facilities — Limitation on liability.” It requires that

The comprehensive plan of each county and city that is planning under RCW 36.70A.040 shall include a process for identifying and siting essential public facilities. Essential public facilities include those facilities that are typically difficult to site, such as airports, state education facilities and state or regional transportation facilities as defined in RCW 47.06.140, regional transit authority facilities as defined in RCW 81.112.020, state and local correctional facilities, solid waste handling facilities, and in-patient facilities including substance abuse facilities, mental health facilities, group homes, and secure community transition facilities as defined in RCW 71.09.020.

I like the way the state law says “these things are really hard to locate” and then requires a process. This is a good example of ways in which local laws can be intermeshed and related with state law. When we consider the proposed changes to SEPA, which I wrote about recently, the situation is similar. There are requirements in state law that substantively or completely met by local ordinance. That’s why this section of the code only includes “regional transportation facilities as defined in RCW 47.06.140, regional transit authority facilities.” All the other things are handled elsewhere in the code, satisfying the requirement to have “a process.”

State law doesn’t require an outcome to the process, it just says there’s got to be a process. Here’s Seattle’s:

In reviewing an application for a proposed essential public facility, the decisionmaker shall consider the following:

1. Interjurisdictional Analysis. A review to determine the extent to which an interjurisdictional approach may be appropriate, including consideration of possible alternative sites for the facility in other jurisdictions and an analysis of the extent to which the proposed facility is of a county-wide, regional or state-wide nature, and whether uniformity among jurisdictions should be considered.

2. Financial Analysis. A review to determine if the financial impact upon The City of Seattle can be reduced or avoided by intergovernmental agreement.

3. Special Purpose Districts. When the public facility is being proposed by a special purpose district, the City should consider the facility in the context of the district’s overall plan and the extent to which the plan and facility are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

4. Measures to Facilitate Siting. The factors that make a particular facility difficult to site should be considered when a facility is proposed, and measures should be taken to facilitate siting of the facility in light of those factors (such as the availability of land, access to transportation, compatibility with neighboring uses, and the impact on the physical environment).

I suspect that this is one piece of the Master Use Permit that Sound Transit has to deal with when they build a station like Beacon Hill or Roosevelt. This looks like a Type 1 or 2 decision, since it refers to “decision maker.” But I think this section of the code could be a lot stronger. It could require lots more facilitation of the process and demand clearer outcomes along the lines I have suggested for Roosevelt. This section of the code could push harder for better station design and drag Sound Transit to the table for more land use discussions.

Maybe an amendment is in order. How about right after this section covering “light rail transit facilities?” We could add a couple new sections?

7. A master use permit for light rail transit facilities shall not be issued until the Director has received satisfactory evidence that the applicant has obtained sufficient funding (which might include a Full Funding Grant Agreement with a federal agency) to complete the work described in the master use permit application.;

8. That the applicant has sufficiently studied whether land use and zoning changes might be needed to support additional housing, retail, and commercial development in and around the station; and

9. That the applicant explains the economic and land use principles and data they have chosen to support their decisions about the size of the proposed facility and whether it includes housing, retail, and commercial uses or not. 

Message to Sound Transit: No land use recommendations and development pro forma, no permits for you. 

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One Response to Chapter 23.80 Essential Public Facilities: Seattle could push Sound Transit to the table

  1. Mark S Johnson says:

    While it is true that there have been rulings that have found regional transit facilities to be essential public facilities, this section of the code was originally written before those rulings and before the vote to create Sound Transit. Think wastewater treatment plants, correctional facilities, solid waste handling facilities, and similar hard-to-site uses that are “essential” to the state and/or region in which they must be located.

    For transit facilities, the requirement #9 suggested seems like asking the regional agency to re-prove the case they developed with their own board, which in cases like Sound Transit at least, includes representatives from Seattle’s elected officials as well as other electeds from the region. Questioning those decisions is a prerogative that transit opponents in Bellevue seem happy to exercise, even without any criteria in their Code to do so. Putting it in the Seattle Code would ensure that there would be an opening to this double-debate process every time there is a permit for a new transit segment.
    #8 would fine if it is merely asking for a recommendation from a transit agency, but imagine how hard it would be to site a transit station if, in order to do so, you had to also propose zoning changes that may be unpopular with a portion of the neighborhood. Seems like it would just make the transit agency more of a target for criticism when they have tried to find the areas that are the most well suited for a station. If the idea is that you can’t have station unless you are willing to fight a neighborhood over a rezone, why would an agency take it on?

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