Neighbors describe the Roosevelt business district, a colorful collection of street-level shops and two- and three-story apartments and taverns, as a work in progress. And there's no denying that things in Roosevelt are changing: You can see it at the intersection of Northeast 65th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast, where a four-story condominium complex is rising slowly from a giant hole in the ground, and over on Northeast 65th Street, where an ever-evolving collection of shops and bars now includes an Australian pub called Pies & Pints, a German bar called Die Bier Stube, and Pop Tots, a store for punk-rock toddlers.

Another major development is in the works: Sometime in the next decade, Sound Transit plans to build a light-rail station in the neighborhood. Two options are on the table: an elevated Eighth Avenue station abutting I-5 and an underground 12th Avenue station that would sit smack in the middle of the Roosevelt business district. While light-rail construction would rip up busy streets and block access to businesses in the neighborhood, residents nonetheless overwhelmingly prefer 12th Avenue, where single-family homes bump up against supermarkets and 65-foot-tall apartment buildings. Others, including Mayor Greg Nickels and some members of the Sound Transit board, have expressed an interest in Eighth Avenue, which--according to current estimates--would save the agency as much as $80 million, but would plunk an elevated light-rail station down on the periphery of the bustling neighborhood.

On a recent blustery weekday morning, four Roosevelt residents stood at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 61st Street, where the roar of freeway traffic threatened to drown out our conversation. Unlike many neighborhood activists, however, these Roosevelt residents are not anti-density NIMBYs. Quite the opposite: "We've been trying to get the density up on 12th, and now they're talking about building the tracks [on Eighth] instead," a frustrated Andrew Reay-Ellers said, gesturing toward the freeway. "Where's the whole transit-oriented development thing that the city talks so much about?"

And indeed, the development on Eighth Avenue is anything but dense: A row of single-family houses faces the flat concrete wall of I-5, where a massive park-and-ride is about the only thing remotely transit-oriented. In the Eighth Avenue alignment, light rail would emerge from the ground around 63rd Street, run elevated for two blocks, and plunge back underground at 65th. But with an elevated portion of I-5 dominating the two-block span between 63rd and 65th, it's unlikely that the land would ever be redeveloped. And because I-5 functions as a wall that cuts off Roosevelt from neighboring Green Lake, ridership would likely be diminished.

Twelfth Avenue, in contrast, offers what neighbors see as the perfect combination of attributes: a vibrant urban streetscape, complete with dense apartment housing and a Whole Foods- anchored shopping district. "We want to redevelop this block in a smart-growth way," Roosevelt Neighborhood Association President Jim O'Halloran said. "We need light rail to support this development."

Fortunately for Roosevelt neighbors, the 12th Avenue option seems to be gaining traction. Even Nickels, a longtime proponent of keeping Eighth Avenue on the table, appears to be coming around. The Sound Transit board will vote on the alignment at its meeting on January 27.

barnett@thestranger.com

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