City Light Plans Electric Car Charging Lot in the Heart of Ballard

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A white SUV next to a charging port.
Another City-owned EV charging lot in SoDo. (City of Seattle)

Seattle City Light has announced plans to develop a former substation near NW Market Street and 28th Avenue NW in the Ballard Urban Village as a parking lot for 14 electric vehicles to recharge. The nearly 9,500 square foot lot was previously home to a tiny house village (Nickelsville Ballard) before a forced move to Northlake in 2018.

The property is currently zoned for industrial use, though of course that could change; the parcel is located in the Ballard Urban Village and not in Ballard’s industrial-manufacturing district. A few blocks east, seven-story apartment complexes have risen thanks to the more permissive Neighborhood Commercial 3 with a 75-foot height limit (NC3-75) zoning.

The property Seattle City Light plans to turn into an EV charging lot. (City of Seattle)
The property Seattle City Light plans to turn into an EV charging lot. Sloop Tavern is just west of the property. (City of Seattle)

We asked Seattle City Light a few questions about how the decision to turn a prime parcel in the heart of Ballard into a parking lot. The answers we got back are below.

  1. How was this site selected for an electric vehicle (EV) charging lot?

In autumn 2020, City Light was contacted by an EV charging provider that was interested in leasing City Light property to host an EV charging station. The EV charging provider expressed strong interest in this particular site because other charging stations in the area were at capacity. City Light staff considered the project and determined that using the site for a “make-ready” EV charging station would be beneficial for the utility, our ratepayers, and the general public, and that the project would contribute to achieving Seattle’s environmental and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

  1. How does City Light weigh the development of large parcels in and around urban villages as EV charging lots, as opposed to using those sites to further other city goals like affordable housing?

The site was previously utilized as a City-permitted encampment from November 2015 to March 2018. Unlike taxpayer-funded property held by the City, City Light property is held on behalf of its ratepayers. Utilizing the parcel for non-City Light purposes requires determination that the property no longer serves City Light’s current and future needs and requires City Council authorization. The site still serves a City Light purpose; in addition to this new use, the existing infrastructure supplies power to King County Metro’s electric trolley buses, a use that would not be compatible with other uses such as full site development for housing.

  1. Did City Light consider alternative uses for this site? 

Yes, however, as noted above, the site has existing infrastructure that limits alternative uses. The site is not considered surplus to City Light’s needs.

  1. What is the response to members of the public that consider an EV charging station in this location to be under-utilizing the parcel?

The site is not being considered as surplus to City Light’s needs and existing infrastructure on the site limits alternative uses.

Comments are being accepted on the proposal through next Friday, March 19, at this email address: SCL_CommOutreach@seattle.gov

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Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the blog since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. In December 2020, Ryan started a three-month stint as editor of Seattle Bike Blog.

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asdf2

I think the future of EV charging should be leveraging the parking lots of existing businesses – especially grocery stores, since people go there frequently – rather than building dedicated parking lots just for charging.

One concern about EV adoption I hear from skeptics time and time again is that people who live in apartments and can’t charge at home will have to spend 45 minutes each week sitting in a parking lot, waiting for their car to charge, which is money longer than the 2 minutes or so it takes to pump gas. Charging stations at grocery stores eliminates that argument, since your car is now charging while you do the grocery shopping you’d need to be doing anyway. I can even imagine stores using their loyalty cards to offer charging discounts if you buy enough groceries, just like Safeway does today with their gas stations.

In this particular case, I can see the argument that the electricity supply is readily available and there’s not a lot else that can be done with the land, without relocating the trolley infrastructure. But, in the future, we should be moving to a world where you eat or shop while you charge your car – not just sit in the car and wait, like you would at the SODO facility shown in the picture.

Mark Hodges

But, in the future, we should be moving to a world where you eat or shop while you charge your car “

the future is better in general when you drop the car altogether.

RossB

Yeah, sure, but it is quite likely that a significant segment of the population will want a car. Grocery shopping is one case, although not a very strong one, in my opinion. It is very common to shop without a car.

But is also common to want to go up in the mountains, or some other place outside the city. These are trips that are very difficult without a car. It is hard to say what it is realistic or ideal in this case. It is quite likely that apartments will continue to add changing locations. If Seattle “grows up”, then there will be more long term multi-floor parking garages, with charging available. If the city starts charging more to drive in the city, these may spread to the suburbs, but still be close to transit centers. I think there would be lots of people who would like to park their cars in Issaquah, for example, and just take the bus there when they are headed to the mountains. This is also a good way to solve the “last mile” problem with a reverse commute (e. g. folks who live in Seattle but work in North Bend).

In general though, I think new charging stations are similar to a new gas station — not a good use of urban space.