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Despite compromise and ongoing community design work, group appeals the Ballard Missing Link

From an SDOT flier (PDF).

The Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail is headed back into litigation.

But despite the pending legal action, the city is still working through the community design process that was was part of the February compromise agreement between SDOT, trail supporters and a group of longtime trail opponents.

The city is hosting three drop-in community design workshops starting this week and culminating in an open house next month. The image above lists the times and dates for each meeting, including a map of the segments under discussion. You can drop in at any point during the workshop, according to a Cascade Bicycle Club email.

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“Cascade is working with a diverse set of neighborhood, maritime and industrial stakeholders on the Missing Link Design Advisory Committee (DAC) to ensure that freight and industrial needs work together with a safe and connected trail,” Cascade wrote.

The DAC is tasked with working through all the nitty-gritty details with stakeholders, including how to make sure driveway crossings safe for everyone while also maintaining access to businesses. SDOT and Mayor Ed Murray successfully convened such a group to create the Westlake Bikeway.

Once again, Cascade will intervene on behalf of the city to help with legal work defending the Missing Link plan, though they have gone with a different legal team this time (Matthew Cohen and Rachel H Cox of Stoel Rives).

It should be harder to successfully stop or delay the project now that the city has completed a massive $2.5 million Environmental Impact Statement that studied the trail alignment options, traffic and the surrounding area at intense detail (the study spent about $340 studying each foot of the proposed trail and, including appendices, clocks in at one page for every 4.7 feet of trail). But after decades of public debate and legal action, an idiom about counting chickens comes to mind.

The project timeline puts the trail on schedule to break ground at the start of 2018, barring legal delays.

The makeup of the appellant group has changed significantly since the 2012 appeal that successfully forced the city to go back and conduct the full megastudy before building the trail. Though the appellants have lost some big names, they also gained some new ones. And at least one party involved in the compromise has signed onto the lawsuit, anyway.

Eugene Wasserman, President of the North Seattle Industrial Association, spoke at Mayor Ed Murray’s February press conference announcing the compromise.

“I too have been working in this project for a decade, so it’s nice to see that soon I’ll be able move onto something else,” he said. In the mayor’s official press release, Wasserman went even further.

“This plan balances the needs of maritime industrial businesses and the community,” said Wasserman in the press release. “We look forward to working with the City, bicycling and pedestrian advocates, and Ballard residents in a manner that meets the needs of everyone that uses this corridor and maintains the vitality of the Ballard maritime industry.”

Wasserman’s involvement in the compromise led Mayor Murray to essentially pronounce the debate and legal fight over.

Despite being a party to the lawsuit, Wasserman said via email that the NSIA is “still supportive of Mayor Murray’s compromise as long as the final design is safe.” They are also supportive of the design group’s work, he said. So the NSIA is trying to keep a foot on both sides.

“Today’s major announcement ends 20 years of lawsuits, studies and counter studies,” said Murray.

When Seattle Bike Blog asked Murray during the press conference if the agreement meant businesses had agreed not to pursue more legal action, he said, “I feel pretty good that we have a track record” of getting lawsuits dropped.

And the compromise and community design process is still going strong with support from longtime trail opponents, such as Ballard Oil. Owner Warren Aakervik praised the city’s compromise route during the February press conference. And he stood by his word.

The appellant group also lost the Ballard Chamber of Commerce (now called the “Ballard Alliance”), a sign that the tide among local business owners has shifted toward the trail compromise.

But as we reported last week, the appellant group picked up some big labor groups, including the Teamsters and the MLK County Labor Council. CSR Marine, which hosts the annual body painting party before the Fremont Solstice Parade bike ride, is also now listed as an appellant. The company has opposed the trail previously, but was not listed on the 2012 appeal.

To compare, the 2012 appeal (“Ballard Business Appellants”) included:

  • Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Co.
  • Ballard Chamber of Commerce
  • Ballard Interbay Northend Manufacturing & Industrial Center
  • North Seattle Industrial Association
  • Ballard Oil Company
  • Seattle Marine Business Coalition

The 2017 appeal (“Ballard Coalition”) includes:

  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council of Washington
  • The Teamsters
  • Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel Co.
  • Ballard Interbay Northend Manufacturing & Industrial Center
  • North Seattle Industrial Association
  • Ballard Terminal Railroad, LLC
  • CSR Marine
  • Seattle Marine Business Coalition

The appellants are trying to force the city to create a new Environmental Impact Statement, saying the current one is “inadequate.” Seattle Hearing Examiner will convene a pre-hearing conference July 6 to set dates. If the Hearing Examiner sides with the city, the appellants could appeal to King County Superior Court. If that happens and the court again sides with city, that should be the end of the line for legal action.

It’s not yet clear whether all legal questions can be wrapped up in time for construction to start in January May as currently scheduled (UPDATE: At the Tuesday meeting, SDOT staff said the expected construction start date is in May. January/February is when the bids will be put together and go out to contractors).

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40 responses to “Despite compromise and ongoing community design work, group appeals the Ballard Missing Link”

  1. Steven Lorenza

    This is why compromising wasn’t a useful exercise.

    1. Law Abider

      Yup, time to stick with the 54th routing, which the EIS was going to conclude is the optimal route. It’ll be a win for our City going forward and neutral for these aging obstructionists, who will be a footnote in the history of the BGT.

      The City tried to negotiate a bad routing to appease these obstructionists, to the detriment of its citizens. The obstructionists feigned acceptance, while planning their next, futile move, which will cost the City even more money and time to finish the BGT. Time to go nuclear on them and do what’s best for the City.

      I could only hope the City has the guts to countersue for lawyer costs at this point. They won’t.

      1. Evan Þ

        During the Westlake cycle track mess, someone suggested somewhere – was it here? – that the City should carry forward two designs: one compromise, and one ideal. If there’s no lawsuit, the compromise gets built. But if there’s a lawsuit, the City presses forward with the ideal.

        Again, it’s a pity that wasn’t done here.

  2. Southeasterner

    Broken record but cyclists are being used as a scapegoat for ongoing development in Ballard.

    Congestion and lack of parking availability is not being caused by cyclists but by thousands of new Subaru’s, Audi’s, BMW’s, and VW’s that come along with the new residential development. However, if they were to attack the actual cause of their issues they know they would lose and probably see their industrial land rezoned to residential. Much easier to attack the cyclists who will continue to bike on Shilshole regardless of where the trail is built (or not built).

    1. Joey

      I love the angle: Remove 200 parking spots on Market/Shilshole for a bike lane, but blame those new Subaru’s, Audi’s, BMW’s, and VW’s for removing the parking spots.

  3. Ben P

    Any lawyers know how we structured our law such that this could be held up by endless litigation, yet DAPL managed to sneak right on through? Who wrote these laws and who can fix them?

    1. Kirk R

      I believe DAPL is held up in litigation as well. The “laws” you refer to are a more conservative judicial reading of the Constitution’s “due process” clause when it comes to private land ownership. A land use lawyer with a good background on state and federal land use case law should be able to answer… Of course there’s always eminent domain, but again, due to the conservative leaning courts and cities’ fear of failing in using eminent domain (or fear of looking like a “bully”), we end up with years of litigation. Sounds bizarre for a public asset that will protect the health and safety of bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians, but that’s where things stand in the courts.

    2. Law Abider

      If there were billion dollar bicycle and trail industries greasing our politicians, there would be favorable trail construction laws too :)

  4. Ben P

    By the way they make a fuss, I’d think cyclists carried rocket launchers and blew up trucks on whim. Seriously, it’s a bike trail.

  5. Meanwhile the route along Market and Shilshole between the Locks and Ballard Bridge gets more and more dangerous to ride, with increased auto traffic and drivers making erratic moves in search of elusive parking spaces.

    Ed Murray’s praise of Wasserman in February was disgusting…and apparently useless.

  6. […] Seattle Bike Blog reports that a group is suing to block the Ballard “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail. […]

  7. John O.

    Anyone who has run a business knows that it is not easy, and cash is the life blood. So I can’t believe any private business has thousands of dollars to spare on legal fees to fight a bike trail. Amazing.

  8. AW

    At this point I wish the city would just ram down their throat the preferred route via 54th street. Enough is enough, they had their chance to compromise.

    I was at the painting party in 2016 and spoke with the CSR Marine guy there. Their problem is that they do not want to lose the free parking for employees. That is their complaint.

    Finally the timing of these meeting – 3 to 6pm on weekdays seems clearly designed to allow only those PAID to influence the work on the trail to have input. The hell with everyone else.

    But really, did anyone really expect it to get built ?

    1. “Their problem is that they do not want to lose the free parking for employees.”

      Sure sounds like CSR Marine doesn’t belong in a dense city that’s growing as rapidly as Seattle.

      1. Joey

        I bet those CSR guys just could just put all their tools and equipment, clothes, and other stuff, on their bike and just ride into work from Lynnwood.

      2. Ballard Resident

        Those CSR guys should pay for parking. I don’t get free parking where I work. It’s the bus or bike home to Ballard from downtown.

      3. Joey, do those CSR Marine carry their work equipment between work and home? In their personal vehicles? Even if that’s the case, that’s their issue. Free parking is the first thing that can go. It is certainly not nearly as important as the safety of those who walk and bike.

      4. AW

        At that same discussion I describe above the CSR person said that if they lost the parking on Shilshole then they would need open up some of the land that CSR owns and let the employees park there.

        So it isn’t about the poor employees needing to carry their gear on the bus – it is about the fact that CSR doesn’t want to give up the free stuff they take from the city. It is about money.

  9. Damon

    Well, I for one am going to stop buying all my sand, gravel and boats from these businesses.

    I do wish there were a way to make these organizations feel how unpopular their legal action is (aside from directly contacting them, which, hey, why not, I guess). The fact that their customer base is so disconnected from the community they operate in is a big problem, when they keep attacking the community.

    1. Joey

      Their actions are incredibly popular amongst those who have lived in Ballard for a long time, and those who have ties to the maritime industry.

      I wish bike advocates were more aware of how unpopular their dogma appears to others.

      1. Ballard Resident

        You mention workers coming from Lynwood.

        Guess these people and their bosses can careless about people who live in Ballard, work in the city and support the trail. We pay taxes to build that trail. I don’t get free parking. Don’t see why they should.

        People that live here do want the trail. I see them on it every day.

      2. Damon

        One of the things that came up in my Facebook discussion with someone from CSR Marine was parking. He indicated that it was going to be a hardship for them to lose the parking on Shilshole. I empathize.

        But you don’t need parking if you live in the neighborhood. A good bike route to work would serve you much better. Those workers are driving in from the suburbs. And, again, nothing wrong with that, and it’s a symptom of changing Seattle.

        But how many of CSR’s 45 workers have lived in Ballard as long as I have (10 years)? How many of them have lived in NW Seattle as long as I have (15 years)? I’m no native, but I’m no newcomer, either. The maritime businesses aren’t the only legitimate Ballard voices.

    2. P

      I’m all for the bike route, but the business are also part of the community.

      In fact, most of those businesses have probably been in Seattle longer than many of the people who read this blog and have moved into Ballard over the last 15 years.

      So please stop with the smug-gentrifier attitude and show some respect.

      It’s maddening that so much time and money’s been wasted studying this for years. An agreement should have been worked out long ago before millions were squandered. With all the intelligent people in this town one might think a compromise could have been achieved meeting the needs of both cyclists and long-time businesses that provide blue collar jobs and critical marine and industrial services.

      If the businesses were being unreasonable the city should have steam-rolled them. At the same time, the gentrifiers outta show some respect for those who were here first.

      1. Ballard Resident

        How long have you lived here? I’ve been here well over 20 years and in the city longer. Probably much longer than most people who work on Shilshole.

        You know Ballard is going to keep getting more dense? People will use Shilshole. We can all share it!

  10. Damon

    I’ve started posting pleas to drop out of the lawsuit on the Facebook pages of the appellants. I imagine my comments will be removed, but maybe some people will see them first.

    1. Damon

      Heh. And now I’m done. I guess only CSR Marine and SBS&G have Facebook pages.

    2. Damon

      Someone representing CSR Marine sent me a thoughtful note in reply to my note on their Facebook page. He made a point that I hadn’t heard raised before about the trail as currently designed forcing a too-small turning radius for their trucks. I asked him if they feel that the mayor’s advisory group is a practical way for CSR to try to get those concerns addressed without halting the trail. Maybe Facebook outreach is a reasonable way to try to engage the appellants.

      1. Ballard Resident

        At today’s meeting Warren mentioned truck turning radius as a reason for not putting the trail on 54th. Later I was talking to a business owner on Market who mentioned that there are several properties on the southeast side of Market that will become multi story residential buildings. I have no idea what the zoning is like there but if that’s true, some of those businesses will be dealing with more residential traffic in the near future. Wonder if that will impact their turning radius.

  11. Matthew Snyder

    “If the Hearing Examiner sides with the city, the appellants could appeal to King County Superior Court. If that happens and the court again sides with city, that should be the end of the line for legal action.”

    Why couldn’t the obstructionists appeal again if they lose at the Superior Court level? Is there any reason to think they’d stop there? We’ve discussed this here before, and I don’t remember reading anything that has convinced me this won’t drag on for (potentially) years in the state appellate courts.

    I asked Mike O’Brien the same question, and his response was that the city would likely just go ahead and start construction anyway, even with active appeals, if the obstructionists lose at the Superior Court level. I have a hard time believing that.

    It’s long past the time for new tactics here. If you’re thinking of going to one of these “community design workshops,” I’d strongly encourage you to do something — anything — else with your time and energy.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That’s why I said “should.” You never know how far much cash an appellant or appellant group will put into the legal fight, though it’s wildly expensive to pursue appeals higher up the court system.

      But I’m not counting anything as a done deal until all deadlines for appeal have passed or the appellants drop their case. For $2.5 million, you expect the EIS to be airtight. If it isn’t … wow.

    2. Ballard Resident

      Ah, but you hear interesting things at those meetings. I’m glad a hand full of bicyclist managed to show up.

  12. Kevin in Ballard

    I’d suggest looking to one business and their attorney and lobbyist as the source of this appeal. The job of the attorney and lobbyist is to bring along as many other appellants as possible. It’s been rumored that the principal(s) involved DID in fact agree to the compromise, then pulled the rug out from under the Mayor after the announcement. Duplicity? Bad faith? Whatever – the process moves on.

    1. Ballard Resident

      I suppose that’s Salmon Bay S&G. I asked Mike O’Brien about them after the big announcement. He indicated they were part of the compromise but didn’t want publicity.

  13. Ballard Resident

    Would the city be required to do an EIS if they decided to repave Shilshole and improve 54th? And while they do that add a 10-12ft paved sidewalk? Can the city be kept from making the south side of the street safer for pedestrians, start to control parking by designating where cars are allowed to park and properly mark driveways? I’ll be asking this at the meeting tonight. The way forward is to make those streets safer even if a hearing examiner or judge rules against a trail.

    Can the city require developers to improve 54th when they build multi story complexes on the north side of that street?

  14. Greg

    The sad thing is that there is a simple way the city could eliminate all of the delays associated with these bicycle infrastructure improvement “battles”. Rather than pretending that anyone in power actually cares about the environment, obesity, the ability of residents to get to work play and school, etc., the city could attach these improvements to something that those that matter actually do care about-rich developers. Make it a requirement for all these new housing units to be accompanied by improvements that mitigate their massive impacts upon Seattle’s transport infrastructure. Are your gigantic condo complexes for the South Lake Union area going to make it impossible for people to get to work by car? Well then, there had better be improvements to public transport, bicycle infrastructure and the like. Otherwise, you can’t build.

    Make that linkage stick and we can have a complete bike network tomorrow. No joke.

    1. J

      Start with Google and their planned new headquarters: three 16-story buildings right on Mercer across from Lake Union Park. That’s going to put hundreds of new cars in SLU every weekday, which will make the Mercer Mess so much worse.

    2. P

      Great comments about tying needed infrastructure improvements to new development, thank you. Evidently this city is too brain-dead to make that ever happen though.

  15. Ballard Resident

    Went to the meetings this week.

    The opposition is angry about loosing some free parking on city property near their property that their employees and customers use. Parking is unregulated so they double and triple park on and around the train tracks. They don’t want to walk more than a few feet to park and do not want to pay.

    They also only care about their access to the area and do not want anyone to pass their driveways even though the street is legally open to all.

    I say build a wide sidewalk on the south side and regulate parking. Can’t see how they can keep the city from doing that.

  16. Ballard Resident

    How about organized mountain bikes rides on south Shilshole and 54th?

    I rode up and down the south side in the dirt on Friday afternoon. Fat tires rock!

    1. Ballard Resident

      Oh and I saw cars parked on the tracks at 54th. Kind of odd when there’s suppose to be a train running there on those tracks.

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