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Old June 15th, 2005, 05:38 PM   #1
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SEA: Allen's streetcar desire takes shape

Allen's streetcar desire takes shape

South Lake Union plan clears council committee

Billionaire Paul Allen's desire for a streetcar, a key part of plans to transform South Lake Union into a hub for biotechnology, is on track and headed for City Council approval in two weeks.

Yesterday, the council's Transportation Committee, led by Councilman Richard Conlin, approved a plan to pay for construction, operation and maintenance of the streetcar.

Construction is expected to start in April on the 2.6-mile line running to Westlake Center and would cost $47.5 million. The streetcar could be running by fall 2007.

About $25 million of the construction cost would be paid by forming a local improvement district to tax property owners along the line who will benefit most from the streetcar. The rest would come from public transportation grants.

For the past year, the council has been adamant that the streetcar would be paid for using only limited money from the city's general fund. Members seemed satisfied, for the most part, yesterday that other ways of paying for it have been found.

Yesterday's 5-2 decision came after a long and occasionally tense discussion. Councilmen Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck voted against the ordinance.

Steinbrueck said he was particularly aggravated over last-minute changes that he wasn't told about.

"There was some backroom deal-making that I didn't appreciate," he said.

"I don't have a problem with the streetcar, but I don't think it is the most cost-effective solution, especially in a place lacking residential density.

"What other sacrifices will we have to make for a streetcar that runs every 15 minutes and picks up one person at each stop?"

The ordinance approved by the committee yesterday sets aside $3.9 million from the sale of some South Lake Union property to Vulcan five years ago that could be used to cover unexpected project costs.

Steinbrueck said he wants $1 million of that money to be used on other transportation improvements as it was originally intended, including bikeways, sidewalks, paving and other improvements in the neighborhood.

"I had a tentative agreement with some of my colleagues, and that was negotiated away overnight with the executive, and that's what I was steamed about," said Steinbrueck.

Redeveloping South Lake Union has consumed much of Mayor Greg Nickels' attention.

"The streetcar will help spur much-needed job and housing growth in one of Seattle's most dynamic neighborhoods and connect thousands of riders to buses, monorail and light rail in the heart of the city," Nickels said yesterday.

Jim Falconer, who co-chairs the Build the Streetcar Committee with Ada Healy, Vulcan's vice president of real estate, said he hopes the streetcar can be replicated in other neighborhoods.

Falconer is president of Vance Corp., which has properties in Denny Triangle, on the downtown end of the proposed track. He has high hopes for the streetcar.

"It will be great for the neighborhood, great for downtown and great for the city," he said. "It will encourage residential living downtown, more jobs and keep Seattle competitive."

But some are concerned that the streetcar comes at the expense of other neighborhoods.

"We have a $500 million backlog in transportation needs that are being ignored," said John Fox, with the Seattle Displacement Coalition.

"This isn't a transportation improvement; it is a frill designed to enhance the value of Paul Allen's properties."

Vulcan, Allen's company, owns 60 acres in the neighborhood, much of it along the streetcar line.

The streetcar would run from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Fairview Avenue, through the Denny Triangle, to Westlake Center. The cars would run on street-level tracks, in a lane mixed with traffic.

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Old June 15th, 2005, 06:37 PM   #2
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oh that's awesome....I'd be able to eat my lunch at Lake Union
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