At the close of business on April 21, the city received a written ruling on the lawsuit by Sound Transit challenging the city’s ability to invoke its land use authority over the conditions of the building permit for the proposed Mercer Island light rail station in Town Center, according to a city news release.
In a special session convened Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to immediately appeal the ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus.
The Judge acknowledged the city’s “serious and well-founded concerns” regarding traffic and safety impacts related to the closure of the I‑90 center roadway for rail construction, but determined that the city’s code was preempted by the authority of the Washington State Department of Transportation, as delegated to Sound Transit by lease agreement.
In her written decision, Judge Andrus preliminarily enjoined the city from invoking its land use authority pursuant to Title 19 of the Mercer Island City Code as to the I-90 Right of Way and the East Link Light Rail project.
“Giving each municipality along the I-90 right-of-way the authority to use local zoning laws to prevent construction of light rail facilities would completely undermine the plenary authority given to WSDOT to manage and regulate the use of state highways,” according to the ruling.
On April 7, Judge Andrus ruled in favor of Sound Transit in another lawsuit regarding Interstate 90 access, prohibiting the city of Mercer Island from rescinding the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit.
The judge determined that state law does not allow the city to address adverse impacts that occur outside the shoreline jurisdiction using the shoreline permit. Mercer Island also intends to appeal that decision to the Washington State Supreme Court.
There is also a third lawsuit in the mix, initiated by the city of Mercer Island and claiming a breach of contract by Sound Transit and WSDOT, based on a memorandum from 1976. No hearing date has been set.
On a parallel track with litigation, the city is pursuing the possibility of a negotiated solution. Three Councilmembers met Monday with three representatives of the Sound Transit Board to explore possible terms of such an agreement, including project mitigation.
At its April 17 meeting, the City Council lifted one of the moratoria regarding light rail and I-90. The council passed an emergency amendment to its zoning code to expressly authorize light rail as a permissible use in the I-90 right-of-way, allowing the city to resume processing the building permit application for the Mercer Island Station.
To learn more about recent negotiations and litigation history, visit www.mercergov.org/Rail-FAQ.