Will city make property owners pay for nearby road projects?
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
February 4, 2011 · 2:13 PM
A controversial policy to charge nearby property owners a portion of the bill to improvements on 120th Avenue Northeast and extension of Northeast Fourth Street will be back in front of the Bellevue City Council next week.
The policy calls for a local improvement district (LID) to pay for $10 million of approximately $47 million cost to extend Northeast 4th Street from 116th to 120th Avenue Northeast and widen 120th Avenue Northeast between Northeast Fourth and Eighth streets. The idea was widely panned by property owners at meetings with the Hearing Examiner last October.
LIDs are used in instances in which projects are determined to provide financial benefit to property owners.
Representatives of the businesses argued that the road projects would primarily benefit further development of the downtown and Bel-Red areas, while congestion and access to the businesses nearby would rise significantly.
Thirteen property owners spoke out at the meeting, and while that isn't a large percentage of total properties affected, the owners were united in their stance.
"The collective voice of those who did attend and participate is resoundingly opposed to formation of the LID," Hearing Examiner Christopher Mathews wrote to the City Council last November.
Since the meetings, city officials said they have been meeting with property owners to smooth over the issues.
Among the most boisterous at the Hearing Examiner meetings were representatives of Best Buy and Home Depot, who stood to lose large portions of their property to the projects.
With the current designs for the roadwork, Best Buy could lose about 10,000 of 46,000 square feet.
"For a variety of reasons there's no ability to find any special benefit for the Best Buy owner," Jerry Lutz, attorney for Best Buy, said at the October meeting. Lutz did not return phone calls requesting comment for this story.
Nancy LaCombe, senior project manager for Bellevue, said staff is looking at several alternatives that would help replace the lost area, either through extra parking to the north of the store, or moving the road further south and then adding structured parking to mitigate losses to Home Depot.
"We're still discussing which alternatives would work best for everyone," LaCombe said.
LaCombe said she is receiving more positive feedback from property owners in weekly meetings held since the Christmas holiday.
At Monday's meeting the council will discuss the Hearing Examiner's report on the meetings, which indicated that the city needed to ease concerns of the property owners before making final decisions on boundaries and whether or not to form the LID. If the council is satisfied with what it hears, the next step would be to adopt a formation ordinance. The ordinance does not begin drawing money from property owners when the formation ordinance passes. That takes three to four years, said Jen Benn, of Bellevue's transportation department.
The Northeast Fourth Street and 120th Avenue Northeast projects are part of the nearly $300 million Mobility and Infrastructure Initiative designed to decrease congestion in areas near downtown.
Bellevue hasn't formed an LID since the early 1990s. In this case, the city concluded that surrounding property owners will gain a total of more than $13 million in value, and the LID cost is formulated as 75 percent of that added benefit. If adopted, the city issues bonds that are repaid through an increase in property tax for the surrounding property owners.
The two projects escaped the fate of many other road projects as victims of city budget cuts. Benn said the projects have been kept whole, given the LID funding is available, because of their high need and the potential congestion that could occur without them.
"In the CIP these projects received the funding the needed to move forward," Benn said. "These were very high priority from our council to go forward."Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.