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Originally published Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 7:46 PM

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Bellevue skeptical of sites for Sound Transit rail yard

Four of five sites Sound Transit is considering for a maintenance yard for light-rail trains are in the Bel-Red Corridor between downtown Bellevue and Redmond. Bellevue officials worry the proposal could complicate upscale development plans in the area.

Seattle Times staff reporter

How to comment on rail-yard plans

Sound Transit will hold two public meetings on what sites to include in an environmental study:

Monday, Oct. 8, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Highland Community Center, 14224 Bel-Red Road, Bellevue.

Thursday, Oct. 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. S.W.

For more information or to comment online, go to

http://projects.soundtransit.org/Projects-Home/Link-Operations-and-Maintenance-Satellite-Facility.xml

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After rezoning the Bel-Red Corridor to allow high-density growth around future light-rail stations, Bellevue officials are worrying that some development could be far different from what they're looking for.

Sound Transit, in need of a place to park and maintain 80 or more rail cars each night, is considering two sites where a 3-year-old land-use plan calls for office towers of up to 14 stories, apartments, hotels, shops, restaurants and pedestrian plazas.

Four of the five locations Sound Transit may study for the 20- to 25-acre maintenance yard are in the Bel-Red Corridor, which lies between downtown Bellevue and the Redmond Microsoft campus. Two of the sites are almost adjacent to planned light-rail stations.

The fifth site is in Lynnwood, next to the city transit center.

"It doesn't make sense" to put a rail yard in what will be an upscale area, Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee said last week. City Council members have asked the staff to draft a letter to Sound Transit expressing the city's concerns.

After collaborating with Sound Transit on ways to offset the cost of a downtown rail tunnel and minimize inconveniences to neighbors, the City Council was surprised to learn a $225 million maintenance yard could be coming to town, Lee said.

"We are sitting nice and thinking we are doing well. We are collaborating with Sound Transit and then they throw this big curve at us," Lee said.

Bellevue and Sound Transit agreed on a rail route late last year after two years of conflict.

Greg Johnson, president of Wright Runstad, which plans a 36-acre mixed-use project around the 120th Avenue Northeast rail station, said a maintenance yard on land zoned for commercial and residential uses "would be going the wrong way from a policy standpoint."

Although his company won't abandon its project, Johnson said, "We'd have to take a hard look at our plans in light of a change in zoning across the street because right now our plans anticipate mixed use and residential uses that are consistent with that."

Of the five possible rail-yard locations, Sound Transit hasn't decided which — or how many — to include in an environmental-impact study. Citizens have until Oct. 22 to comment on the study's scope.

Michael Williams, director of Sound Transit's Office of Light Rail Development, said he is "95 percent sure" the Lynnwood site will be included in the study along with some, but probably not all, of the Bellevue locations.

Williams said the agency's thinking about the need for a satellite maintenance facility has evolved since 2007, when voters defeated a Sound Transit 2 plan that would have built rail lines to Everett and Redmond and possibly put rail yards in those cities.

The scaled-back, voter-approved 2008 plan will go only as far north as Lynnwood and as far east as Redmond's Overlake area. A recent study of the growing system's maintenance needs showed storage tracks and a cleaning and repair shop will be needed in Bellevue or Lynnwood, Williams said.

The existing maintenance yard in Seattle's Sodo area isn't large enough to handle a fleet that will grow to 180 rail cars from 62 as stations are opened between 2021 and 2023 east to Overlake, north to Lynnwood and south to Kent/Des Moines.

If there is a Sound Transit 3 project that extends rail lines to Everett, downtown Redmond and Tacoma, the fleet would grow to 300 cars and a third maintenance facility would be needed, Williams said.

"No matter where we put the next one, we're going to need one in the north and one in the east and the existing facility," he said.

The possible station locations are:

• The Lynnwood Transit Center at 48th Avenue West and 202nd Street Southwest;

• A site including a former International Paper plant near the future 120th Avenue Northeast station in Bellevue;

• A property that includes a Cadman concrete facility near the 130th Avenue Northeast station in Bellevue;

• Retail and office properties east of 130th Avenue Northeast and between Northup Way and Highway 520 in Bellevue; and

• Fred Meyer, Chuck E. Cheese and other retail and office properties west of 148th Avenue Northeast and south of Northeast 24th Street.

Lynnwood officials haven't taken a position on the north site, owned by the Edmonds School District for a future transportation facility, said David Kleitsch, the city's economic-development director.

Bellevue City Councilmember Claudia Balducci said last Monday the Bellevue sites are "really, really disappointing. They're just not good sites."

Councilmember John Stokes said he didn't think the Fred Meyer site is viable but didn't rule out the other Bellevue sites. But, he said, the Lynnwood site "is the one that would really work best, that I think Sound Transit would like to get."

Williams said Sound Transit is looking at whether the 35-acre Lynnwood property could accommodate both a rail facility and the Edmonds School District's transportation needs.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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