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Sustainability and Transportation Committee hears final (?) presentations on Occidental Ave

Earlier today, the Seattle City Council's Sustainability and Transportation Committee held a meeting on the street vacation petition filed by Chris Hansen's WSA Properties for a portion of Occidental Ave S between S Massachusetts St and S Holgate St. They viewed presentations from the Seattle Department of Transportation in favor, as well as the Port of Seattle in protest, of the vacation.

S&T Committee members Mike O'Brien and Rob Johnson were present, as well as Council members Deborah Juarez and Tim Burgess, and Council President Bruce Harrell. Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold were absent. They heard public comments from Port employees, making claims of lost jobs, and Sonics supporters, including FX McRory's owner Mick McHugh. McHugh said the arena would be an "economic engine," driving business to the SoDo and Pioneer Square neighborhoods in the fall and winter months.

The SDOT presentation offered up new traffic reports, showing that peak hours in the area are in the morning and decline throughout the day. They also showed reports that there is over 43,000 parking stalls within a 25-minute walk of the arena location. They concluded their presentation by once again recommending the vacation.

The Port of Seattle then made their presentation, offering up reports from 2012 and claiming that vacating the street would cause "severe negative impacts which cannot be mitigated." They also claimed that they have 50 signatures from state lawmakers (it's 41 but who's counting) in protest of the arena location. They once again encouraged the Council to delay the vote and table the issue and not make a quick decision (this last statement spurred chuckles from the crowd, considering the process is four years deep at this point).

Several Council members prodded the Port on their claims. Council President Bruce Harrell interrupted their presentation several times to ask for further information. He also seemed to take exception to a perceived threat of legal challenges should the vacation be granted. Rob Johnson claimed the Port was speaking in "hypotheticals" and asked if they had done any studies on street maintenance and traffic infrastructure. He was told the Port doesn't "have an answer." Debra Juarez asked if the Port would be as as opposed to a street vacation for another purpose (and was met with a non-answer). Tim Burgess asked Marni Heffron (three times) if she thought the EIS was well done. Heffron did her best to not answer, but eventually conceded that the document featured all the required information, however she lamented its aesthetics.

O'Brien and Burgess proposed a few amendments to the petition. O'Brien wants stronger language pertaining to the width of the sidewalks (23'), the conditional (arena only) nature of the vacation, and proposed lighting in the pedestrian corridor, paid for by the Sonics Arena group. Burgess proposed mandating the access road east of the arena and strengthening the scheduling agreement, as well as having Hansen and his group pay for the vacation with the cost being funneled to the SoDo Transportation fund.

The S&T Committee will meet again on April 19 and the plan is to vote the proposal out of committee at that time. If it passes unanimously, it will go to full council on April 25. If it passes split, the full council will take it up on May 2.