Seeligs, city remain at odds over land for transit center

June 5, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

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In the past month, city officials and Seelig Family Properties owners have duked out details of the city’s transit center project at Coal Creek Parkway Southeast and Newcastle Way, including involving the police.

The $4.6 million project is a partnership between Sound Transit, which will pony up $4 million, and the city, which will pay the additional $600,000.

The project has been on the books since about 1996, but was finally approved by the City Council in December 2006.

The project is not a building, as the name might imply, but instead roadway improvements, such as bus turnout lanes and shelters, bike lanes, larger sidewalks, new curb ramps and realigned sidewalks.

It will also improve pedestrian visibility in the area and meet newer Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

At issue is property the city wants to buy from commercial businesses in that stretch of the corridor, including that of Martin Seelig, one owner of Seelig Family Properties, where the city’s popular fruit stand is. The Seeligs have owned the commercial property at the corner of Coal Creek Parkway Southeast and Newcastle Way since the mid-1970s.

The city wants to purchase a roughly 3-foot swath of land that borders the streets along the property.

But when the Seeligs heard the city wanted their property, they hired William Popp, of William Popp Associates, a private transportation planner and engineering firm, to look at the city designs and reconfigure them to show how the project can be done without having to acquire the property.

“When you are a homeowner, you care about what happens on the street where you live. It is of consequence to you,” Seelig said, adding that the same goes if you’re a commercial property holder.

“They say that they have had a public process. But if they did, they would have asked other commercial property owners and myself what we thought, and I’ve found out they didn’t,” he said.

Purchasing the property will likely have an adverse effect on the fruit stand, since the pull-in parking slots would be jeopardized and could have an impact on the Seeligs’ ability to sell and develop it as a Walgreen’s.

“For whatever reason, the long-term occupancy of the fruit stand on the Seelig property is being used as a kind of emotional argument in this matter, which is about a civic improvement,” said City Manager John Starbard.

In support of the Seeligs’ interests, Popp introduced his proposal April 24 at the city forum as an alternative to the city’s designs, which ended with a call to Newcastle police.

Starbard said Popp had laid his plans on a table the city had its presentation materials on. When a member of the consulting team attempted to move Popp’s presentation to answer a question about the city’s plan, Popp nudged her aside, Starbard said.

“She made one more attempt, but he pushed her again, nudged her aside,” Starbard said. “At that point, we asked an officer to come into the room and explain to Mr. Popp that there was the potential he had committed a misdemeanor and was disturbing a peaceful assembly.”

Popp was asked to move to another table at the side of the room, Starbard said.

Popp described the incident differently.

He said he had plans he was presenting as an alternative, since the meeting was meant to give the city feedback on its plan.

“I was talking to City Council member Steve Buri and describing the plan to him,” Popp said. “I had actually put them on a table that had been smaller at the back of the room, but they had suggested since there wasn’t enough room to see them, that I move them to a city table that had smaller maps and plans on it.

At some point, he said, Maiya Andrews, the city’s director of Public Works, told him to move them because they were conflicting with the city’s plans.

“She was irritated, obviously, so I moved them over so that you could see both sets of plans,” Popp said.

“Then, John (Starbard) came up and said that I was disrupting the meeting and if I didn’t stop they would ask I be removed by the police.”

After explaining the situation to an officer, Popp said, things progressed smoothly and he moved to the back table, but at no point did he ever push Andrews.

“She was actually doing the nudging. She was trying to shoulder her way in,” Popp said. “The city did not have the intention of changing the plan or accepting any input on the subject.”

After Popp’s presentation, city officials looked at his plans and said they were not as workable as theirs for several reasons, including traffic lanes too narrow to fit a bus in, incompatibility with the city’s code for downtown sidewalks and that they didn’t enhance pedestrian safety, Andrews said.

It also required adding a large retaining wall near the northwestern end of the project and failed to adequately keep traffic lanes flowing in consistent lines through traffic signals and intersections, Andrews said.

“The transit center project has been designed consistent with the council’s direction and consistent with the Sound Transit agreement, and it is important that our funding partner agree with the plan,” Starbard said. 

However, Seelig said Popp’s design is far more pedestrian friendly and traffic calming than the city plans. 

“And it doesn’t require the purchase of private property,” he said.

After the city’s comments were sent to Popp, he said he made necessary changes and presented them at the May 6 council meeting.

After the necessary adjustments, including increasing the lane width for buses, Popp said his plan could still save about $1 million, and is safer for pedestrians.

Thus far, the project is scheduled to remain on track. It is slated to go out for bid late this summer, Andrews said.

The intersection will close during construction, but city officials will provide alternate routes for people who use the road to access downtown and for their commutes.

The Sound Transit agreement calls for the project to be completed by the end of the year.



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One Response to “Seeligs, city remain at odds over land for transit center”

  1. CK on July 8th, 2008 11:59 am

    If they take down that fruit stand I will riot…

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