Alaska Air HQ construction, new cell antennas considered by SeaTac Council

By Jack Mayne

A major new Alaska Air Group construction project and a possible 20-year agreement to permit cellular companies to place new antennas on utility poles citywide dominated a lengthy SeaTac City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 12.

The SeaTac Council heard the first phase of a two-part discussion of the proposed of a massive addition to the the Alaska Air Group’s headquarters facility with a final consideration of the pact at the next Council meeting.

The Council was also briefed on the hunt to find a new city manager to replace the retiring Joe Scorcio, with summertime interviews of candidates expected.

‘Copper River’ project
Council was told of a move to approve a 20-year development agreement with Alaska Air Group, parent company of Alaska Airlines, for a proposed building at 28th Avenue South at South 192nd Street near the Alaska Air headquarters. The final council vote on the issue is not until June 26.

Scorcio said the the Copper River project is on 7.5 acres consisting of approximately 530,000 square feet of office and commercial rental and leased space and an eight and one-half story parking garage with nearly 1,300 stalls at full build-out. The project is is planned to be constructed in four phases over a maximum of twenty years, its application to the city says.

Scorcio asked that the public hearing be held over for more discussion and action at the June 26th Council meeting when the Council “will consider taking final action” on the multi-phase development agreement.

The project “is showing a large physical commitment by Alaska Airlines to retain its hometown advantage here in SeaTac,” said Scorcio.

Phase one is an office building located on southern-most portion of the site and the lower three levels of a proposed eight and one-half level parking garage located on the western edge of the site.

Development agreement
The city manager said the term “development agreement” means “that in the law it is a contract between the city and a developer for a specific parcel of ground and for a specific development proposal” and “stays in effect until it expires of is completed.”

“It is all about jobs and that’s a very positive aspect for the city,” Scorcio told Council.

It locks in the development for both the city and, in this case, Alaska Air Group, he said, adding the agreement “has to further the public interest,” adding the Council with the agreement “you are writing a contract … essentially a contract zone with the developer that has to achieve the same health welfare and economic well-being that the rest of our zoning code does.”

For the developer, Alaska Airgroup, the agreement provides flexibility and certainty by setting ground rules that “assists with financing” while offsetting and contraining costs while consolidating “numerous issues nvolved in a complex project into one controlling document.”

For the city and anyone who needs or wants further information on the project, the development agreement puts all te pieces in one place, obviating the need to search large numbers of documents to find information about the project, Scorcio said.

Pedestrian access
“The most important thing about the project for the city in the short run and the long run is to enhance the entire site, to not let a portion of the site to site undeveloped or unaltered ,” he said. “How a property abuts its neighbors and how it abuts the public right-of-way are really critical for the success of the project in our city. Improving pedestrian access and the pedestrian environment is important. Stormwater quality is something that we want to deal with because the current site doesn’t deal with stormwater well” and the first phase of the development will “significantly improve the water quality” for the “entire length of the project.”

The improvements made by the developer will be paid for by Alaska and not the city taxpayers, he said.

Alaska wanted predictabilty on the fee structure and use regulations, so those are not vastly changed by future Councils and affecting project costs. Alaska also wanted some “deviations” and “departures” from city regulations. For example, Scorcio said, city regulations require parking garages to have retail facilities at ground level, but the first floors of the proposed parking garage are underground. But, he said, there will be retail available in the final structure.

The city manager said parts of the development property that is not going to be constructed upon immediately will be landscaped and not left in its current conditions.

New small cell towers
Council considered a ordinance that provides franchise agreements with small cell communication companies to install and operate facilities in SeaTac city rights-of-way for up to 20 years. The session was for public comment, of which there was none, then referred to Council committee and expected conservation of passage on at the next meeting, June 245.

Verizon, Mobilitie and AT&T have applied for franchise agreements which would allow smaller cellular antennas on existing street utility poles to augment capacity for data traffic in ‘dead zones’ in various parts of the city.

While smart phones are used as telephones, 80 percent of what is transmitted through the smart phone is video. All of the new uses for the burgeoning smart phones is driving the need to increased network speed. “Macro sites,” the tall towers for that have been the backbone of the cellular industry are claimed to be insufficient for a variety of reasons, so small cells are coming into use as a fill-in process.

Councilmember Joel Wachtel said he was trying to discover more about the “new, incoming technology and there is some concern about the readiation they generate and the signals they generate and the fact that they don’t transmit or thery don’t carry so far so they have to be closer together.” He said he was trying to find out what the city is getting and “who’s approved them.”

“I think if they are going to be putting these things up all over the city, we should know what the unit is so we can, at least, research if there are any (safety) issues with them,” Wachtel said, including evolutions of the equipment.

City Engineer Florendo Cabudol said he could have the information for a Council committee session before the measure is submitted to Council for approval.

At an April meeting of the Des Moines City Council, Scott Snyder, a lawyer in the Seattle office of the law firm Ogden, Murphy, Wallace who hired by that city to research the small cell problem said a city “can’t discriminate among service providers,” but it can require that coverage gaps use the “least intrusive means” of closing gaps and it can regulate new poles in the right of way and utility pole over 60 feet high and can charge a ground lease fee.”

SeaTac does not currently have telecommunication franchise agreements providers operating in rights of way, but small cell services “would not be covered by existing agreements” since this involves transmitting data over a wireless cellular network as opposed to fiber optic cable infrastructure. In addition, the city noted there are separate ordinances with each service provider.

Council adopted a staff proposal to defer decision until the June 26 meeting so the staff will have time to address comments at the June 12 public hearing and obtain a recommendation from the Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

Peter Kwon said he is concerned about the proposed franchise agreement.

“I am not sure the agreement, in its current form, is something I can confidently support.” He wanted the measure to go back to committee and was looking for similiar franchise agreements.

“I wanted to find some example of franchise agreements that other cities have and I can’t find a single one which is odd to me, but this like the new frontier,” said Kwon.

The ‘CIR’ quest by Fernald
Fernald wondered what ever happened to her “CIR” which in city lingo means Council Information Request she submitted a year ago about the possibility and legality of the city “limiting airline flights to certain areas and times” about which she read of in the federal Airline Noise Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA). Staff told her about continuing the battle but never responded at the Council meeting to her request for a written answer to the information request.

“The ANCA stated, in part, “although noise control of aircraft is exclusively a federal function, airport authorities and local government do have the option to mitigate noise effects through land use control, such as zoning and land acquisition which the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) agrees is the exclusive domain of the state and local government.”

The Washington Legislature has told the state Department of Commerce to do an analysis of noise and pollution effects on SeaTac and the wider south Seattle area. Fernald said the study was to include “the impacts of the current and ongoing airport operations have on quality of life. These impacts are associated with air traffic noise, public health, traffic, congestion, parking in residential areas, pedestrian access to the airport” along with public safety and potential impacts of crime on the city’s residential and non-residential property values.”

She wanted to know if what she read from the Commerce Department letter “relate and is it helpful in any way to my CIR?”

Scorcio said the state is still dealing with matching grants from local cities and other jurisdictions, so the study has not begun, but he thought Fernald’s question would be in the study when it is begun.

He added that the law says the city, and any other jurisdiction seeking some local control over noise and pollution affects have to be proven by the local jurisdiction proposed noise level decreases.

“Doesn’t mean we can’t do it, it just means we have work to do,” he said.

Fernald said she need to know “what I can do to close out my CIR and some some results.”

Search for new city manager
City Manager Joe Scorcio and Human Resources Director Vanessa Audett told the Council the staff is on target to the recruiting of a new city manager to replace the soon to retire Scorcio. Audett said Council has set June 22 as the deadline for selecting candidates to be interviewed. The first round of interviews by Councilmember should be “possibly July 18” in a special Council session, said Audett.

Audett said staff suggested that each Councilmember should forward a list of five to seven candidates that they would like to invited for an interview. From those individual requests, Councilmembers will come up with the five to seven for a first-round if interviews perhaps in a Council executive session or group could be split up to have Council panels.

Councilmember Pam Fernald said she would like to have the first round in an executive Council session, private and not open to the public and no one suggested another way so Scorcio said the candidates would be given a first round interview that way. He said that way is best because often candidates are “testing the waters” and have not always notified their employers. It isn’t until the final round that “things tend to go public.”

Audett said the city “cannot use a background check as a screening tool but certainly any finalist can be background checked once they are a finalist.” Background and credit checks will be made of finalists, Audett said.

Fernald said that there should be standardized questions for all candidates to be fair, but Mayor Michael Siefkes said “I am exactly opposite” and that there should be different questions for the different backgrounds of various candidates with a variety of resumes.

Councilmember Clyde Hill liked the idea of a hybrid interview, asking a set list of specific standard questions of all candidates, then individual questions from each councilmember.

Fernald awarded, Robinson leaving
“On July 4, the Association of Washington Cities that Councilmember Pam Fernald has achieved her certificate of municipal leadership which “recognizes essential knowlege, training and skills to be an effective municipal leader” and has completed training in four core areas “under their curriculum,” said City Manager Joe Scorcio, including “effective local leadership.”

“Right now, Councilmember Fernald is the only sitting councilmember who has achieved enough training to earn her certificate of municipal leadership,” Scorcio said, adding that Councilmember Peter Kwon is nearing his certificate.

Scorcio also told Council that the Tacoma City Council had on Tuesday (June 12) confirmed the appointment of Jeff Robinson to the position of community and economic development director, with his last day in SeaTac being July 6. He has held that same position on SeaTac for “nearly a decade.”


One Response to “Alaska Air HQ construction, new cell antennas considered by SeaTac Council”
  1. Nicholas W McCartney Jr says:

    As a almost 25 year Alaska Airlines Engineer (at the Seatac Maintenance Hangar) and a resident of the Kent West Hill, I have made many, many trips up Pacific Highway, and lately the 28th Avenue extension from 216th St. in the morning and the reverse in the evening. I see nothing but positives to this project – both for Alaska Airlines and the city of Seatac. And given the recent hotel builds fronting on 28th Avenue, office buildings and a parking lot/garage would be right at home.

    There is no doubt that the as-planned first phase with one office building and the parking garage, with landscaping on the rest of the site, will be much better for the city than the derelict Sandstone Motel, as well as the property left vacant by an apartment fire many years ago.

    As for effect on the neighborhood, being sandwiched between two hotels and a used car lot will certainly be a step “up” for the neighbors. If for some unknown reasons the city council was to extend the date of the “final” vote or for some unfathomable reasons – such as out and out extortion by the city – deny the project, consider the eyesore that will exist for many years to come……Will an office complex populated by professional employees do more for the city, or will another vacant lot be a better choice?

    I would like to think that no forward thinking person would disagree with this major construction project. Look at the rapid transit fiasco that exists in Seattle today. The “if we don’t build it, they won’t come” mentality that allowed Federal funds to go to Atlanta (which now has a world class rapid transit program) was way off the mark. The truth is, we didn’t build it, but they came anyway. And that at the current slug’s pace, the light rail will terminate at 200th street for many years to come.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Wright McCartney