For more than two years, city planners have been working with residents and business owners to develop a vision for a transformed Bel-Red area northeast of downtown. With the City Council close to making decisions about proposed land use and code changes, It's Your City presents common questions and current answers about the project.
Question: I've heard the city is considering big changes for the Bel-Red Corridor. What's being proposed?
Answer: A recently released draft plan calls for dramatically reshaping the area, allowing it to gracefully transform from its current low-rise, light-industrial and commercial uses to a more urban environment. The plan envisions, by 2030, areas of more intense, mixed-used development, new parks and open space, a thriving economy, new neighborhoods and a better transportation system, with more streets, trails and bike lanes.
Question: Where is this area located?
Answer: The 900-acre Bel-Red area is located a short distance northeast of downtown Bellevue. It's roughly bordered by State Route 520 on the north, Bellevue-Redmond Road on the south, Interstate 405 on the west, and 148th Avenue Northeast on the east, with a small section between Bel-Red Road and 156th Avenue Northeast farther to the east.
Question: What's been done so far?
Answer: From 2005 to 2007, a Bel-Red Steering Committee appointed by the City Council held public meetings and came up with a vision for the area. Since then, five Bellevue boards and commissions have worked together with city staff to turn the Committee's vision into a planning blueprint called the Bel-Red Subarea Plan.
Question: Why are these changes being proposed now?
Answer: In part, the changes are being considered because the character of the area has changed. Although the Bel-Red area is a major employment center in Bellevue, some of its larger employers have moved away or reduced operations in recent years. Another driver is Sound Transit's proposed extension of a light rail line through the area. Bus rapid transit routes are also being considered.
Question: Why is the city interested in making these changes?
Answer: Members of the Steering Committee and various Commissions and Boards see an opportunity to take advantage of the current and future changes taking place in the Bel-Red area. More intense development could capitalize on the public transit system proposed for the area, and placing jobs and residences in close proximity also makes sense. In addition, enhancing streams that run through the corridor could produce valuable environmental benefits, while the creation of new parks and trails adds to the city's recreational choices.
Question: I'm a customer of several businesses located in the corridor. What will happen to them?
Answer: The vision for Bel-Red is to accommodate existing businesses while supporting gradual change to new, higher density forms of development in specific locations. Many existing commercial uses and services would continue to be allowed in the various new zones proposed for Bel-Red. Other existing uses, such as light industrial manufacturing, are addressed in a specific new code section in the draft regulations that allows for current uses to continue operating.
Question: Why is this plan good for Bellevue?
Answer: The draft plan for Bel-Red proposes a new network of public improvements that will not only serve the Bel-Red area, but also provide improvements for the entire city, including improved east-west transportation, better access to downtown Bellevue, connections to city and regional parks and trails, and enhancement of the city's streams.
Question: How would Bel-Red area look different in the future?
Answer: Some of the biggest changes would include new streets running through the area, a wider variety of buildings ranging from 30 to 150 feet tall, better access to open space and a possible light rail line through the corridor.
Question: Bel-Red Road and Northeast 20th Street are already busy. Won't these changes make traffic even worse?
Answer. Increasing congestion is always a concern as development occurs, but the proposed integration of land uses and transportation improvements, including the addition of new streets and bike lanes, and improvements to public transit such as light rail are designed to keep vehicle traffic moving and provide better options to driving alone.
Question: Is there going to be a light rail line running through this area?
Answer: The land use pattern proposed for Bel-Red is designed to support, and be supported by, a high level of transit service. The Bel-Red plan is not dependent on light rail, although for the new Bel-Red neighborhoods to be fully successful, it will require some form of high-capacity transit service, such as light rail or bus rapid transit. The Bel-Red plans for Northeast 16th Street could accommodate either form of transit.
Question: How much would the Bel-Red project cost the city?
Answer: To pay for all the new road improvements, create new parks and open space and restore several streams in the Bel-Red area, would require more than $450 million in capital spending through 2030, according to staff estimates.
Question: Who would pay for it?
Answer: A variety of sources for the funding have been identified as possible means. Developers could pay for a significant amount through impact fees, donated right of way for roads or open space and through incentive programs. Other sources of revenue might include grants, storm drainage fees, a tax on future growth in the area, money from the capital projects fund and formation of a local improvement district.
Question: When will this proposed transformation begin and how long will it last?
Answer: On the current project schedule, the City Council could take action on the Subarea Plan, zoning and regulations late this summer or this fall. With the zoning and regulations in place, developers will then have the ability to apply for development permits. It's anticipated that the Bel-Red area will see development of about 4.5 million square feet of commercial and office space and about 5,000 residences by 2030. Building out the entire area could take 40 years or more.
Question: I know some property owners will benefit from "upzoning" the area, but what’s in it for me?
Answer: Some property will likely be worth more as a result of zoning changes, but it's also true that developers are expected to share the cost of improvements in the area. All Bellevue residents are expected to reap benefits from the Bel-Red project in the form of new jobs, new sources of tax revenue, new, affordable housing, transportation system improvements and new parks.
Question: What happens next? When will a final decision be made?
Answer: The Planning Commission is reviewing the draft plans and regulations for Bel-Red and is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council this summer. Council review and action on the recommendations could occur this summer or in the fall.
Question: How can I voice my opinion about the Bel-Red Subarea Plan?
Answer: The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Subarea Plan on May 28. To comment further, e-mail Paul Inghram, Comprehensive Planning Manager.
Question: Where can I learn more about the Bel-Red project?
Answer: The Bel-Red section of the website is packed with information about the project, including a draft of the Bel-Red Subarea Plan, draft zoning map, draft land-use code amendments, draft design guidelines and a staff report.
Question: Supporters say plans for the Bel-Red area -- which contains more than 1,100 businesses and nearly 17 percent of the city's total employment -- will encourage a vibrant economy, but wouldn't the area attract new businesses even without the city's involvement?
Answer: Maybe, but there has been relatively little development activity or investment in the area compared to the city's other commercial growth centers in recent years, and some large employers have moved their operations from the area, which is often seen as being in transition from a mostly light industrial, underutilized section of the city, to one of greater density. With extensive input from the community and property/business owners in the area, the Bel-Red Steering Committee considered, and rejected, maintaining a continuation of the existing land use pattern in favor of a future vision that renews the area through transit improvements, parks, commercial development and new housing.
Question: I've heard the Bel-Red area may represent an opportunity for the city to explore ways to get more affordable housing built in Bellevue. Is that true?
Answer: Yes. With the median sales price of single-family homes in Bellevue topping $635,500 and condos more than $324,995, buying a home is out of reach for most King County families. While Bellevue has made progress in boosting the supply of affordable housing on the Eastside, demand remains strong. That's why officials are studying several options designed to increase affordable housing in the Bel-Red area, where more than 5,000 housing units are expected to be built in the coming years.
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