Kent city leaders raised concerns about potential traffic problems with the announcement this week that another 308 urban-style apartments could be coming to West Meeker Street.
Seattle-based developer Goodman Real Estate plans to buy what’s known as the Cancer Care site, an empty, grassy lot at the southwest corner of West Meeker Street and 64th Avenue South, to build the mixed-use project. Florida-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America has owned the site for years after the state Department of Health denied in 2003 a Certificate of Need to build a small hospital on the property after five area hospitals opposed the project because too many beds would be on the market.
“What’s really exciting is this developer was inspired by the progress Marquee on Meeker is having,” said Ben Wolters, city economic and community development director. “And it’s no surprise that their architect, Studio Meng Strazzara, is the same architect for both projects.”
Auburn-based FNW Inc./Landmark Development plans to start construction this summer on about 500 apartments and 12,00 square feet of retail and restaurant space to replace the Riverbend par 3 golf course just a mile down Meeker Street from 64th Avenue South. The city sold the course to Landmark for $10.5 million earlier this year.
Goodman plans to build three, four-story buildings with ground floor live/work units with large glass store-front type entries to encourage work-at-home occupations. Goodman built The Platform Apartments downtown on West Smith Street in 2014 and the Signature Pointe Apartments near SR 516 in 1989. Studio Meng Strazzara designed The Platform.
“As I look at this, I’m excited but I also have concerns,” said Councilman Jim Berrios at the council’s Economic and Community Development meeting on Monday when Wolters announced the Goodman project. “We just talked about the Marquee with 500 units and now another 308 units, and we still have the Naden property (east of 64th on Meeker Street) that could be additional units. We are looking at a thousand units or more. That is a concern as we look at the traffic issues.”
Wolters said he has heard from other council members as well about traffic issues along Meeker Street.
“I think what really drives that in the public consciousness is that line of cars waiting at the light at Reith Road, SR 516 and Meeker during the p.m. peak when people are going home,” Wolters said. “The reality is that we have a choice to make as a community. There is on the city plans to build a $70 million continuation of the five lanes (along Meeker Street) at Washington and bring it up across the river and through Reith Road. “We are not going to find $70 million to do that project.
“Nor does it make sense in today’s evolving transporation needs. Nor does it make sense to build in essence an almost parallel highway to an existing state highway. What is causing the problem with that traffic is the other routes out of the valley for people working there are getting clogged up, and a lot of drivers are using Reith Road to get up to Military Road, to 272nd and to I-5 to get south out of town.”
Wolters said the two-lane Meeker Street bridge near the golf course doesn’t really slow traffic.
“It’s very understandable the public focuses on the two-lane bridge,” Wolters said. “We could replace that bridge and it would be a very expensive queue lane waiting for that light at that intersection. It would be more of looking at rebuilding that intersection, adding a second through lane to connect with the second through lane at Reith Road before it goes back to a single lane (up the hill).”
Wolters told the committee the investment by developers along Meeker Street will improve the area and help solidify the city’s Meet Me on Meeker proposal to turn the road into a vibrant corridor of inviting, wider and attractive sidewalks and bike paths to connect downtown with the planned new mixed-use development at the Riverbend par 3 property.
“I think with the investment from Marquee on Meeker and this investment we are putting more people, more eyes on the street and we’re showing a very positive investment, which this corridor needs,” he said. “It’s been starting to turn in a negative direction because of the lack of investment. We’ve had some high profile crime incidents at 64th and Meeker. We need to start turning things around, and I think our ability to attract new investment along here is going to help make this a more attractive place.”
Berrios still wasn’t satisfied with resolving potential traffic problems along Meeker, which has just two lanes west of 64th Avenue South.
“I’m really concerned about the traffic,” he said. “As we continue to move forward on these projects, I know we have talked about we are going to test some things – the sooner the better.”
Wolters replied that city staff received approval from the state Department of Transportation to convert the southbound HOV lane along Washington Avenue between Meeker Street and SR 516 to a general purpose lane with the timeline for the change yet to be determined. He also said when light rail opens in 2024 on the West Hill people who live in the apartments on Meeker could catch a proposed Metro bus line to connect to mass transit. He said the eventual extension in a decade or so of SR 509 to Kent also will change traffic flows.