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Bellevue City Council OKs direction on light rail permitting process

 

The Bellevue City Council approved a game plan Monday, Sept. 17 to handle the complex permitting process needed for the East Link light rail project.

At issue is how to amend the city’s land use code to provide a permitting track for a huge project that will cross several land-use districts and include six light rail stations in Bellevue. The existing city code was not drafted with light rail in mind, so clear requirements and standards are lacking.

Rather than make extensive changes throughout the city’s 400-page land use code, the council opted for a light rail “overlay district” that would be added to the document. The strategy is designed to simplify the amendment process and make it easier for people to find light rail requirements in the code.

As part of Monday’s discussion, councilmembers also signed off on a two-pronged permitting approach. One calls for the city to enter into a “development agreement” with Sound Transit, which would allow Bellevue to establish additional design standards and mitigation measures. The second permitting path, in case Bellevue and Sound Transit cannot strike a development agreement, involves issuing a conditional use permit.

Both paths would be included in the land use code, maintaining flexibility as future decisions are made by the council and the Sound Transit Board.

Bellevue and Sound Transit are collaborating to identify project cost savings under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed late last year; it includes city contributions toward the cost of a downtown tunnel.

The land use code amendments and permitting effort is proceeding now in order to establish clear standards and clarify the permit process, before the selection of a final light rail alignment in spring of 2013. Construction of East Link is projected to begin in 2015 and light rail service is expected to begin in 2023.

Next steps include a council study session on the draft land use code amendment, scheduled for Oct. 8, with a public hearing planned for Oct. 22. Additional study sessions could come in November and final action by the council on the land-use code changes is anticipated in December.

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