by Jadenne Radoc Cabahug
In early November, the City of Renton’s Rainier/Grady Junction Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Subarea Plan won the Governor’s Smart Communities Smart Vision Award, which awards local leaders for city planning projects intended to support communities, sustainable infrastructure, and the economy. It is the ninth project from Renton to win this award since the award program began in 2006.
The TOD plan was adopted in 2021 and intends to span from downtown Renton to the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and SW Grady Way. It will be built alongside the future Sound Transit bus rapid transit (BRT) expansion, which is currently in the design process. Construction will begin in 2023, until its opening in 2024.
“The subarea plan is really about aligning the community’s vision and the City’s efforts to realize this area as a more high-density residential area with amenities and commercial spaces,” Paul Hintz, City of Renton principal planner, said. “This is kind of the next area that the City is dedicating significant efforts to make sure that we’re deliberately planning for the future of this area.”
The area currently includes a mix of current and former auto dealership lots and commercial buildings; according to Hintz, the future site will be a mixed-use commercial and residential district similar to The Landing, a mall that features specialty retailers and restaurants. The site will complement the new Renton Transit Center, as well as open the area to potential light rail service.
Because of its proximity to the airport, downtown Renton is restricted by building height limitations from the Federal Aviation Administration, but this new plan will encourage commercial growth and the buildout of more residential areas. Hintz says that after the plan was adopted, one of the City’s first steps was to expand the subarea’s Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) area to catalyze affordable housing development, in addition to public infrastructure investment.
According to Hintz, the TOD recommends creating affordable and market-rate housing through the city’s Housing Action Plan (HAP). The HAP allows the subarea plan to focus on multimodal accessibility, land use, and urban design, as well as health and equity.
City of Renton planner Katie Buchl-Morales says that because the city is situated in the crossroads of major freeways I-405 and WA-167, it’s an ideal location for development with easy access to other cities, like Seattle and Bellevue. The TOD plan will also reduce traffic congestion, since the intersection of the subarea plan is known to have high traffic.
“It’s a great place to be in terms of strategically located to other opportunities … especially as we think about … how that relates to strategic positioning of the transit center at that location and expanding services,” Buchl-Morales said.
Buchl-Morales says the City also created a stakeholder workgroup made up of agency partners, businesses, and neighborhood associations; the City will consider their feedback during the project’s development process.
“People might write in about concerns about noise or traffic, and then we’re able to include conditions onto the project that would help mitigate those public concerns,” Buchl-Morales said.
One of the concerns the City has determined is that the current plan would have significant environmental impacts. It has called for a Planned Action Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Ordinance. The EIS will address proposed actions and alternatives, existing environmental conditions, and all the impacts that may occur due to the TOD plan. Topics covered will include the natural environment, like streams, wetlands, and floodplains, plus stormwater management, transportation, land use, noise and air quality compatibility, and public services.
“The goal here is to facilitate development on a faster timeline than would ordinarily happen if we just led up to the market and had individual projects come in and do their own site-specific environmental analysis,” said Hintz.
According to Hintz, the EIS is still in the early development stage, and the City has had only one public meeting, in August. The draft EIS publication period will take place from February to March 2023 and allow for a 30-day comment period for the stakeholder workgroup and the public to voice their concerns, until it is finalized from April to June 2023.
Jadenne Radoc Cabahug is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Communications: Journalism and Public Interest and double minoring in international studies and French. She began her journalism career at 15 in Seattle through NPR KUOW 94.9 FM’s RadioActive Youth Media Program producing radio feature stories and podcasts. Since then, she has moved to print and online journalism, writing for local Seattle outlets like Crosscut, the International Examiner, the Daily and breaking international news Factal.
📸 Featured Image: Map of Rainier/Grady Junction Subarea. Pink shading denotes the core area, the black outline indicates the entire TOD area, and the yellow and black outline shows the Transit Center site. (Credit: City of Renton)
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