Sound Transit to use eminent domain to move Seattle stores

SEATTLE -- Al Carson says it's the people that keep him on the job at the age of 81.

It's the progress, though, that may just stop him.

Carson has been a salesman at Northgate's SAS Shoes for about 15 years, he said. In the past couple, he's seen construction crews digging holes and removing dirt near his office along 1st Ave NE, making way for a light rail station.

Soon, however, those crews will be where his office is.

Sound Transit, which operates Seattle's light rail system, recently sent certified letters to 12 business owners in the 9500 block of 1st Ave. NE, informing them of plans to purchase the property through eminent domain. The agency needs the land to build large columns to support elevated trains that will eventually come through there, said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

"It's a tough situation, especially when you've got these small, independently-owned businesses," Gray said, "but when you're building out a system that's going to carry millions of people a year, it's inevitable there's going to be impacts like this."

The relocation will impact a dozen stores at Northgate Station, including a mom-and-pop teriyaki restaurant, a Jenny Craig weight loss center, and locally-owned music store Silver Platters, which has been in that location for 27 years. Moving will likely take place in early 2016, Gray said.

"We were told many, many times that we were safe," said Carson. "This whole strip mall would be safe. There would be no relocation."

"They do a good job of condemning and taking," he added.

Transit officials originally thought they could put columns in and maintain business access, Gray said, but later realized that wouldn't be possible. Real estate agents will work with businesses to relocate them, he added, with all moving expenses paid.

"I understand it was approved by the voters. It's going to benefit the city and everything," added Omar Napier, who manages a Thai restaurant in the area. "I understand, but it's still tough."

The purchase hasn't happened yet, said Gray, but "it is definite."

Some still hold out hope for a last-minute change.

"You always have some hope that something will happen. Who knows," added Carson. "Leaving this store would be really, really difficult, and I don't want to do that."

Editor's Note: In the original story, Gray was quoted as saying the light rail system would move millions of people a day. He's since corrected the quote to mean per year.