Council Begins Review of Street Vacation Proposed for a SODO Arena

The City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee has begun its review of the street vacation for Occidental Avenue South in SODO as requested by Chris Hansen for a basketball/hockey arena.

A street vacation would be needed in order to permit and build the arena. A “street vacation” involves the removal of a street for private purposes, in this case the construction of an arena. Seattle Municipal Code section 15.62.

The City’s Street Vacation Policies for implementing SMC 15.62 were last updated in 2009. An update to the policies is included in the 2016 City Council Work Program. Last year the Council passed a statement of legislative intent requesting that SDOT do an inventory of public benefits received from street vacations since 1995, due at the end of March 31.

In order to grant the street vacation, the City Council must make a determination that it would serve the public interest. Three criteria are used to measure the public interest, as noted in the Council staff memo:

  1. Are the functions of the street right-of-way to be vacated protected?
  2. Would there be adverse land use impacts resulting from the vacation?
  3. Will there be sufficient public benefits to offset the loss of the right-of-way?

The Street Vacation Policies contain additional details. SDOT has recommended approving the proposed street vacation.

SODO proposed street vacationSeparate from the proposed street vacation, in 2012 a previous Council approved by 7-2 an MOU with Hansen for funding an arena. The agreement runs through November 2017; it doesn’t mention the street vacation, or require Council action.

Tuesday’s committee briefing included presentation by the project proponents. Materials, including the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the SDOT recommendation, are linked at the meeting agenda. A public hearing was also held during the evening where we heard from proponents of the street vacation as well as opponents of the street vacation. Proponents’ testimony focused upon their belief that granting the street vacation is integral to “bringing back the Sonics” and that the SODO location is the only appropriate location for an arena. The opponents’ testimony was more wide ranging. We heard that the Council should be focusing on other priorities, that concerns that another stadium at this location would impact traffic and jobs, that we should take up deliberations of the street vacation after other requirements of the 2012 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) are fulfilled — such as a. Council determination that the SODO location is in fact the right location, and b. the acquisition of a basketball team, and also a more thorough analysis of alternatives.

On April 5, the committee will receive a briefing on the transportation analyses included in the EIS, and on April 19, the committee will be briefed on public benefits proposed for the project. That is the first meeting a vote could take place.

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