Appeal: Light rail construction will be a 'blight' on U District

When the U-District Station opens, it will connect residents to Northgate Mall in the north and SeaTac Airport in the south via light rail.

But, the seven years of construction leading up to its opening will be a blight on the neighborhood, causing an increase in crime, an influx of less desirable residents, and a pile of hardships for business owners and residents - at least according to two appeals filed by the owners of the University Manor Apartments.

The University Manor Apartments, or U Manor, is a 90-year-old building on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue Northeast and Northeast 43rd Street that is home to at least 140 residents.

U Manor is also located at the southeast corner of what will be the major construction staging area for the future U-District Station, the Sound Transit light rail station that will be located 80-feet under Brooklyn Avenue between the Neptune Theater and U Manor.

When construction starts - right now, it's scheduled for 2014 - a 16-foot-high wall will be erected around U Manor, limiting pedestrian and vehicle access. And, the owners of U Manor aren't happy about what that will mean for them, their tenants, and the neighborhood at large.

Carl Schaber and Gene Casal filed two appeals Dec. 27 protesting the city's approval of the construction site's environmental impacts and the noise it will create.

"U Manor and its residents will be severely impacted by the construction noise from the project and especially the higher noise levels allowed at night," states one of the appeals.

The appeal alleges the noise will disturb residents' sleep, causing negative health effects, which will in turn mean more vacancies and broken leases, which will lead to reduced rents and less desirable tenants.

"This jeopardizes the economic viability of the building and will cause a blighting condition affecting this building and surrounding vicinity, as well," states the appeal.

According to Sound Transit, which plans to have crews work throughout the night on the project to make it quicker and cheaper, nighttime ambient noise at U Manor would only increase seven decibels. That's about the difference between a quiet car driving at a low speed and a normal conversation heard from three feet away, according to a very specific Sound Transit chart.

U Manor's owners counter in their appeal by saying that doesn't take into account the brief loud noises that are most likely to disrupt sleep.

The owners want U Manor, which sits in a commercial zone, classified as a residential zone for the purposes of the noise study because it serves a residential purpose. Reclassifying it as such would carry stricter nighttime noise constraints.

In the second appeal, Schaber and Casal take issue with dirt and toxic fumes that construction will release into the air and the reduced pedestrian and vehicle access to U Manor.

They also claim the construction site will lead to an increase in the neighborhood's already high risk of crime by reducing visibility for pedestrians and creating hiding places for criminals.

"Many U Manor tenants are students who return home late at night," states the appeal. "The construction walls and barriers will reduce 'eyes on the street' and shield criminal activity from view."

A hearing is scheduled for the appeals at 9 a.m. Feb. 6 at City Hall.

The U-District Station is scheduled to open in 2021, and Sound Transit expects more than 12,000 people will use the station every day by 2030.