Port of Seattle’s plan to build 1500 slot parking lot inside a park getting strong opposition
By Patrick Robinson
The Port of Seattle is planning to take down roughly 11 acres of trees and eliminate a popular bike riding area in North SeaTac Park to build a 1500 space paved parking lot. The plan is part of the short term planning for the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP). It's not imminent but if carried out would get underway in the next few years.
It has been met with a groundswell of opposition from area residents, park users and local officials.
The Port’s plan calls for the construction of a large employee parking lot in an area that for well over two decades has been park land and home to bike riding trails for a particular kind of bicycling called BMX and Mountain Biking.
Just adjacent to the planned lot are two 8 year old RC (radio control) racing courses and a BMX bike racing course, with extensive Mountain Bike trails throughout the proposed parking lot area.
These Mountain Bike trails are home to the weekly "Wednesday Night World Championships MTB & Trail Life Cross Country Running series" hosted by NWMTB which owns and runs the events. That company is owned by former Cyclocross champion and biking expert Russ Stevenson.
In fact the trail area has been the training ground for many in that sport including Olympic Bronze Medalist Jill Kintner who is one of 1300 signatories to a petition opposing the Port’s plan. See the petition here.
As Seattle and its airport SEA grow, the Port of Seattle has been developing the SAMP over the last few years. A key part of that $4 billion plan (which includes 30 projects) is a second terminal to accommodate the massive growth in air passenger traffic expected in the next decade. It's considered a "near-term project," projected to be complete in the next six years by 2027.
The second terminal is projected to have well over 1000 employees who will need to park their cars. A 2017 projection stated the employee parking needs to increase from 4,876 to 7,650 spaces, an increase of over 2700.
Opponents to the plan cite reasons ranging from the amount of carbon these trees pull from the atmosphere, to the loss of habitat for wildlife to increased storm water runoff to the loss of a treasured recreational area.
They are urging the Port to instead construct a multi-level parking structure on land already utilized for parking. While the issue is clearly cost, thus far say opponents, the Port has been unwilling to respond to that suggestion.
UPDATE: June 22
The Port Commissioners meeting on June 22 offered presentations and some public comment regarding this issue.
Steve Metruck, Port of Seattle Executive Director said, "I'd like you in the public to know that we hear these concerns about the loss of recreation open space and tree cover in the airport area.
I want to emphasize we are currently in the environmental review phase of the 30 or more proposed near term projects in the sustainable aviation master plan or SAMP. That review will continue through 2022, taking public comment on the impacts of the proposed projects is a core component of a federal, state environmental review.
We urge members of the public to take advantage of these public comment periods. One this year and in 2022 to make their views known.
The environmental review will consider potential impacts as well as the ways to reduce or eliminate those impacts. To preserve the integrity of the environmental process, however, it's not appropriate to take interim actions approving or rejecting construction of any individual projects within the SAMP.
To be clear no construction will happen on any project without separate Commission consideration and authorization so there will be plenty of opportunities for members of the public to offer.
I also want to note that the Commission just two weeks ago, had a robust discussion about our policies regarding airport ground transportation. The Commission reaffirmed its strong direction to reduce transportation emissions and the use of single occupancy vehicles to the airport. I expect these principles would be applied when considering any such project at the appropriate time in the future.
More generally, the staff shares the concerns over tree canopies near the airport, prioritizes removing invasive species and restoring native trees and plants on airport owned property, Works with various jurisdictions on replanting or safety related tree removal and providing for $400,000 for the non profit Forterra to work with Burien Des Moines and Seatac to develop with them an urban forestry analysis and strategy.”
Russell Stevenson of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance said,
"My name is Russell Stevenson and I'm bringing you this, this topic once again. I had made other comments to the Commission in early 2019.
From the sounds of Mr. Metruck's report this topic has the port's attention already, which is refreshing to hear, so a quick statement I'd like to read. To review my company owns and operates a weekly mountain bike race series in North SeaTac Park called Wednesday Night Worlds. We're now in our 8th season of racing and these are fine family friendly events that draw large numbers. You know over 250 participants weekly of devoted cyclists from around King County. Our presence in the park helps to showcase the wonderful naturally preserved park that is owned by the Port as a destination for recreation. We along with other preservation groups, one of which is on this call today are the stewards of North SeaTac Park, keeping its trails and natural resources accessible and not in that community alone. Volunteers devote hundreds and hundreds of hours to maintain the various public trails, removing invasive plants, protect trees, etc. In 2019, the Port granted funds awarded to a non profit Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance for its own ACE fund, allowing continued development at the park trail network.
Today, the condition of the park has never been better.
I previously stated to the Port Commission, the urgency to reconsider the SAMP proposal to remove the large portion (55 acres) of the park from public access to be developed into employee parking. This project named L-06 is currently still in the near term SAMP Agenda, sounds like we all know this. At the time I was thanked by the Commission for bringing this to the attention and I was told that alternatives would be considered as needed.
But I'd like to finish by urging the Commission to take action now to remove this from the SAMP agenda. I don't have the time to go into the reasons why.
But I believe the number one reason should be the first word in SAMP, which is sustainability. Thanks for your time I appreciate it.”
Noemie Maxwell, forest steward and area resident said,
Hello my name is Noemie Maxwell. I'm commenting on lot. L-06. The 1500 spot SAMP proposed parking lot, that would destroy acres of forest in North Sea Tac Park near where I live. I'm a volunteer Forest Steward in this park. The lot would also destroy mountain bike trails used by generations and thousands from across the region, it would harm use of adjacent Highline Botanical Gardens and Pat Ryan playfields.
It would displace countless birds.Its surrounding neighborhoods, which sit right under the airport flight paths are state designated as highly impacted because of environmental health disparities. Mostly from airplane pollution raining down on our diverse, moderate to lower income residents. Objections were made to this lot two years ago during SEPA Review. I find no evidence of substantive response to them.
Now a petition signed by over 1300 people, including elected officials in 6 jurisdictions calls on you to act. But Port staff instructs commissioners, they may not even speak of action. Have commissioners requested from staff a legal basis for this blanket gag rule? Have you determined its legal boundaries?
Commissioners serve the people not port staff. There is legal room for you to act. You must find it. SAMP Technical Memo 6 gives a parking garage alternative, but finds that destroying our forests is better for costs and warehouses. There are alternatives, including and beyond the parking garage, you must find them Commissioner Steinberg characterized. Our pleas for action as a 'political controversy'. You are the politician running for reelection. We're people trying to breathe.
Have empathy please commissioners all of you please live up to your power. If you are so unable to do that, that you allow the unnecessary destruction of acres of old forests in a highly impacted community, we are in deep climate trouble. We need your leadership through the next years to guide us to climate goals. Thank you."
Commissioner Fred Felleman responded with,
"We have a scoping comment report that reviewed all the comments that were received, and I believe we have responses to them. ... it should be online on the SAMP website, so to the degree that we have heard this it's I think it should be well documented and as Executive Metruck has said no decisions are made on this. These things come before the Commission at their time after the environmental review where all these comments that you've raised was repeatedly would be thoroughly considered. So, please do not accuse us of decisions that we haven't made already. But thank you so much for making sure this does not evade our attention."
Signed up opposing the plan are area political leaders:
City of SeaTac
SeaTac Deputy Mayor Peter Kwon
SeaTac Councilmember Clyde Hill
SeaTac Councilmember Senayet Negusse
King County Council
Councilmember Dave Upthegrove
City of Burien
Burien Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx
Burien Councilmember Cydney Moore
Burien Councilmember Kevin Schilling
City of Des Moines
Des Moines Deputy Mayor Matt Mahoney
De Moines Councilmember Luisa Bangs
Des Moines Councilmember Traci Buxton
Des Moines Councilmember JC Harris
Des Moines Councilmember Anthony Martinelli
Des Moines Councilmember Jeremy Nutting
City of Normandy Park
Normandy Park Councilmember Earnest Thompson
Comments from the community have focused primarily on the benefits of the green space.
Lisa J, said “Long time residents of the area. We live off 24th Avenue and 138th across from the North Seatac Community Center. Please consider the multilevel parking structure in the current employee parking location and do not remove any of the proposed park acreage. The trails and natural park, in addition to the gardens and recreational areas (disc golf, BMX/RC track) are important to our community.”
Andy M. said, “These green spaces are year round recreational areas for people of all ages. Not to mention home to an array of local and migrant animals whom are already cornered due to development and airport expansion.
In addition, this location is not ideal for efficient access to the airport, and adding large parking areas will yield traffic congestion troubles in neighborhood and residential arterials that are not currently designed for this influx of vehicles. Adding a parking facility here would yield a necessity to allocate future funds to expand narrow corridors, with mere hopes that it could accommodate.
Bad for the wallet and bad for the indigenous life? That's a pretty solid "no," if you ask me.”
The Port of Seattle responded to the petition with a letter to area residents from Arlyn Purcell Director, Aviation Environment & Sustainability:
Thank you for reaching out regarding the SAMP Near-Term Projects and your concerns about North SeaTac Park. Environmental review on the more than 30 proposed Near-Term projects is underway currently and goes through 2022. No decisions would be made about building proposed projects until the environmental review concludes its analysis of potential impacts and ways to reduce or eliminate impacts. Every proposed project will also require Commission authorization.
Taking public comment on the impacts of the proposed projects is a core component of the federal and state environmental review. This petition could be entered into the official public comment record during one of the upcoming public comment periods – one this year, one in 2022. More generally the airport shares your concern over tree canopy. The airport prioritizes removing invasive species and restoring native trees and plants on airport owned property, works with area jurisdictions on replanting for safety-related tree removal, and provided $400,000 for nonprofit Forterra to work with Burien, Des Moines and SeaTac to develop an urban forestry analysis and strategy. Community conversations inspired many of these programs. We appreciate and welcome your ideas.
Arlyn Purcell Director
Aviation Environment & Sustainability
The port has made its preference clear in a document called Technical Memorandum 6 in which they list an alternative to L06.
In fact this is what was submitted to the FAA for review.
The relevant section is on page 4-49:
"18.104.22.168 Employee Parking
There are two options for the development of employee parking facilities to the north of the Airport. These include:
North Employee Parking Lot (NEPL) Structured Parking concept: The portion of the NEPL outside the runway protection zone could be redeveloped into parking structures. Given airspace limitations that define the maximum height of the structure and general parking facility considerations, NEPL could be redeveloped to provide a total of approximately 6,000 parking stalls (900 stalls surface parking, and 5,100 stalls structured parking). A general massing diagram of this concept is provided on Figure 4-17.
Surface & Structured Parking concept (separate from NEPL): The NEPL would remain as a surface parking lot and would be reduced from its existing capacity of 4,122 parking stalls to approximately 2,500 parking stalls with the development of the cargo warehouses. Additional employee parking would be provided in a new 1,500 stall surface lot (location 6 in Figure 4- 17) and a 2,000 stall parking structure located directly west of the existing NEPL surface lot (location 7 in Figure 4-17).
“The preferred option is the Surface & Structured Parking concept. This concept utilizes available land not currently being used for an airport purpose to develop less expansive surface parking as opposed to the NEPL Structured Parking concept that takes surface parking capacity out of service to develop more expensive structured parking.”
Leading the effort to oppose the Port's plan is Noemie Maxwell. Maxwell a volunteer Forest Steward in the park who lives in the community. She plans to offer public testimony along with cycling professional and head of Northwest Mountain Bike Russ Stevenson and is urging others to participate in the next Port Commissioner's meeting on Tuesday, June 22, and subsequent meetings as well.
She's distributing a flyer urging more public participation:
And she writes,
"It's hard to believe that the Port of Seattle proposes to replace the large forested area of North SeaTac Park between Highline Botanical Gardens and the Pat Ryan Playfields with a parking lot. This estimated 11-acre site is home to majestic trees that clean and cool our air as well as a network of mountain bike trails used by thousands throughout our region. It's an essential buffer from aircraft noise and pollution and an iconic part of our community.
But the scoping documents for the Port's Airport Master Plan clearly show that it is. And the timeline for this project is moving fast.
Over 1,300 people - including elected officials, a US BMX Olympic medalist who got her start on those trails, several nonprofit organizations, and two Port Commission candidates - have signed the petition at KCTreeEquity.org. People have written nearly 1,000 comments on that petition (read the public ones here.) We hope this public outcry will move the hearts of Port Commissioners and staff so they stop this plan. But this petition is just the most recent action against this lot. The public - and elected officials - have called on the Port to withdraw this proposal for 2 years. We can't count on Port Commissioners to listen to us.
She is urging what she calls Priority Actions:
TUES JUNE 22
And each second & fourth
COMMENT AT PORT MEETINGS
Highest impact: Two-minute online testimony made during meeting (must register by email by 9 that morning). Also high impact:Written comments. Instructions HERE. Or check Port meeting site.
JULY (Exact dates TBA)
OBJECT ON THE FEDERAL RECORD
A draft NEPA EA (National Environmental Policy Act Environmental Assessment) is expected next month. Get notice from the Port HERE on when public comments will be accepted.
More info on Port of Seattle website and KCTreeEquity.org
According to the plan opponents the petition opposing the plan is seeing more signatures being added daily and Maxwell writes in the text:
"We call on the Port of Seattle to withdraw the proposal (1) in its Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) (2) to convert acres of existing green space in North SeaTac Park (3) into employee parking lot # L-06. We also call on the Port and local officials to re-evaluate the additional proposals in the SAMP that would result in the removal large numbers of trees from land near this park for other airport structures.
Construction of Lot #L06 would replace acres of forested land with a barren surface, destroy mountain bike trails that are an important recreational resource for our community, increase storm water runoff and flooding potential, and remove trees and green space that clean our air of airport-generated pollution.
The benefits provided by the large trees and mature forested land that the Port proposes to remove could not be replaced by planting new trees in other locations. Nor are this community’s forested mountain bike trails a replaceable resource.
An alternative to the removal of this critical green space would be to convert the existing nearly 40-acre SeaTac north employee lot to a multi-story parking garage. This could quadruple parking capacity and create a noise barrier between the airport and the park and nearby neighborhoods."
The Port meeting on June 22 begins at 10:30 am with public comment (each commenter gets two minutes) starting around 12 noon.
City of SeaTac Deputy Mayor Peter Kwon noted that in 2016 when the Port was working on a Flight Corridor Safety Program they cut down 2800 trees. Kwon said he pressed the issue with them seeking the particular FAA code that required the removal of the trees. After a three month delay, their response showed that removing the trees was not actually required. They could have topped the trees or taken other actions that would have preserved the green belt but according to Kwon chose the least expensive alternative. "The problem is that these commissioners can't possibly get a comprehensive understanding of all the issues the Port must deal with but they are the ones responsible for making these decisions."
In that case the City of Seatac challenged the port's claim that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review was not required for the tree cutting project. The port split the tree cutting project into 3 'phases' where each phase removed a smaller number of trees thus avoiding triggering an EIS review.
This kind of action is explicitly prohibited by state law and that was the challenge raised by the city. The port negotiated directly with the city and agreed to additional mitigations (planting additional trees, cutting down only specific trees, creating a tree monitoring program for and establishing the $1 million Airport Community Ecology (ACE) fund.
Its webpage states:
The ACE Fund, authorized by the Port of Seattle Commission in November 2016, recognizes that neighboring communities that experience more impacts from airport operations should also experience more benefits. The Commission directed that the program support environmental projects and programs in the cities of SeaTac, Burien, and Des Moines.
Ultimately it all comes down to cost.
While no official cost estimates have been provided by either the Port or opponents to the plan the website FIXR.com provides some general guidelines as to the cost difference between a lot and a garage.
They state: "The cost to build a parking garage varies by location, size, and whether you build up or have some parking below ground. For that reason, the national average ranges from $7,500,000 to $12,000,000, with most people paying around $9,750,000 for a 150,000 sq.ft. multi-level parking garage above ground. The lowest costs associated with this project are $210,000 for a 30,000 sq.ft. surface lot, while the highest costs are $13,500,000 for a multi-level parking garage with two levels underground."
The site also concludes that "the national average cost per square foot is around $65 for building most parking structures. Costs per square foot for a surface lot are considerably lower at $3 - $7 a square foot."
The average parking space is 320 square feet. Using the highest range of those estimates we can see at least a rough cost comparison between a lot and a parking structure.
320 sq ft x $7 = $2,240/space x 2,774 new spaces = $6,213,760 for a parking lot
320 sq ft x $65 = $20,800/space x 2,774 new spaces = $57,699,200 for a parking garage.
If we limit the number of spaces under consideration to only the 1500 planned for the new lot, that would mean a parking lot at the high end of the range would cost around $3,360,000 to construct (and likely more since the trees, and stumps would need to be removed and the land leveled). A structure on the other hand would cost $31,200,000. In other words the cost would 9.2 times more for a structure over a simple parking lot. 1500 spaces comprise 480,000 square feet. The larger number of spaces (2774) would require 887,680 square feet.
The establishment of a parking structure on land already utilized for parking would lower the cost. Other development costs are harder to determine since the variables are different.
To keep up to date throughout the environmental review of SAMP Near-Term Projects, register here to receive email updates, and click the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) box under subscription topics.
This story has been updated with corrections and accurate links from the original published version
The North Seatac Park was built over property condemned for noise because of the expansion of Seatac airport. It was originally family housing. The park was a community amenity to help mitigate some of the damage inflicted by the Port on the community. I am wondering what the impact would be on the rest of the park? For example, there are soccer fields next to the BMX track where I coached my daughter's team. Soccer fields are in short supply. There are also baseball fields in the area. All the exhaust and traffic would harm the health of kids playing on those fields. The EIS should look at this.
I would think, in this time of Global Warming awareness, instead of providing additional parking, there could be a viable transit system installed to mitigate the congestion, air pollution, noise pollution, destruction of a Park. The port of Seattle is all about making mone, even though they espouse their "Green" agendas..