Parking structures, Firs’ closure & driverless vehicles engaged by Council

By Jack Mayne

A driverless vehicle pilot plan, along with changes in downtown parking structures and more appeals for help from the soon-to-be evicted residents of the Firs mobile home park dominated the SeaTac City Council at its regular Tuesday (March 14) meeting.

The Council heard Spanish speaking residents of Firs Mobile Home Park that its mostly Latino family residents objected to the decision by a hearing examiner and sustained in a review of the decision that approved the closure of the and its eventual development. The residents said they feel discriminated against and hope the city, in the words of a translator, “will do something for the children and the elderly folk.”

The translator said she works with the Tenant’s Union of Washington and has worked with the Firs residents for months and said the property owner has done little to keep it up even when residents asked. The Firs Mobile Home Park is located at 20440 International Blvd.

The Tenant’s Union spokesperson wants the city to come to an unspecified action to benefit the owners of the mobile homes.

Mayor Michael Siefkes thanked the Firs’ residents for being at the meeting.

“But we have to follow the law just like you – we have and we do not have an ability to do more than we have done in this case. What the landowner wants to is within the law.”

Parking structures
The Council approved changes to zoning requirements related to parking structures in the city center which encourage parking facilities that are concealed with orientation toward a mix of uses, including pedestrian, public spaces and encouraging “distinctive buildings in the city center.”

The changes also encourage developers of parking facilities to design multiple use facilities for visitors and residents “through parking restrictions and incentive-based programs.”

The parking changes also establish limits to uses for park and fly facilities “allowing for increased parking in exchange for public benefit, restricting parking adjacent to International Boulevard, and encouraging attractive parking structures.”

Driverless vehicles?
At the study session the SeaTac City Council was asked if it was feasible for SeaTac to use “autonomous vehicles,” or driverless vehicles controlled by computer program and not a human being?

The Council said it would like to participate in “an unsolicited proposal” to prepare a feasibility analysis study “of self-driving vehicles.”

John Niles, the research director of the Center for Advanced Transportation and Solutions, or CATES, said studies are ongoing nationally, and opportunities for SeaTac as the home of a major airport could include vehicles to shuttle people to cars, transit stations or even “neighborhood circulation.”

It is not about a “science project,” Niles said, but about discovering the reality of such a future development, “will people buy into this,” adding that “safety is very important to us” and that test vehicles are all certified and street legal.

SeaTac, said Niles, could be a “center for excellence” with such a study that eventually could get federal or other grants and open development possibilities.

“Tell me why the City of SeaTac should be involved in this instead of a consortium of hotel owners or parking garages – the businesses that use this?” asked Mayor Michael Siefkes.

“You own the streets, this is your city,” said Niles.

Siefkes wanted to know if driverless vehicles were legal in the state and Niles said it is legal if a driver were in position to take control. But it would take legislation for driverless shuttles to operate on sidewalks or special street lanes

Selling unneeded land
The Council at the earlier study session gave preliminary approval to a request by Economics Development Manager Jeff Robinson to sell a 23,000 square-foot property at 3120 South 176th Street that the city had purchased in 2008 for $850,000. Since then the city says the site “has required regular monitoring, maintenance and clearing at the city’s expense and has been the subject of multiple complaints,” and he noted there is no city use for the property.

Robinson recommended sale for $750,000 to the adjacent property owner, 176th SeaTac, LLC, the adjoining property owner for eventual development.

Odds and ends
Management Analyst Anita Woodmass sought Council direction on a way to pay for the city’s portion of a study extending the Sound Transit like from Angle Lake to Federal Way at South 320th Street by 2024. It will go to the Council’s Transportation Committee, then to the Council.

City Manager Joseph Scorcio introduced new employees So Won Kim who will be a recreation program specialist and probation counselor Jeannette Fischer, a new position that was formerly contracted to private groups.

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