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Bellevue considers code amendments for light rail

Members of the Bellevue City Council on Monday engaged in the first of several planned discussions about a draft land use code amendment that would govern permitting for the East Link light rail project.

The interchange led to numerous questions and requests for information that will drive future discussions as councilmembers work to find the right approach for the city.

The code changes are intended to fill in gaps in the current land use code, which did not anticipate a light rail line. With an “overlay district” passing through land-use districts, the amendment also is intended to provide standards and guidelines tailored to the special characteristics of the light rail and to ensure that the same level of review and outreach occurs along the entire route.

In addition, the amendment would create two possible permitting paths to approve the light rail alignment. One involves a “development agreement” with Sound Transit, which would allow Bellevue to establish additional design standards and mitigation measures. The second permitting path involves issuing a conditional use permit.

In a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed late last year with Sound Transit, Bellevue agreed to consider a more predictable, “consolidated” permitting process.

Bellevue staff said the draft amendments: are not intended as a rezone of property; do not amend codes related to noise or construction; and are not a specific approval of the East Link project. Rather, they establish standards Sound Transit must meet in order to receive permits.

Councilmembers raised questions related to the timeline for making a final decision on the code amendments, the best way to inform the public about a complicated issue, what type of mitigation Sound Transit should provide, and what it means that light rail is considered an “essential public facility.”

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 start in 2015 and light rail service is expected to begin in 2023.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft code amendments at a public hearing before the city council on Oct. 22, and at one or more council study sessions in November.

The suggested timeline for council to give final approval to the land use code changes is the end of December, in accord with the MOU hammered out late last year. Written comments will be accepted any time before the council votes on the proposed amendment.

To make comments, or for more information, including a copy of the draft overlay code amendment, a frequently asked questions sheet, and other background material, check the city’s Overlay District webpage at www.bellevuewa.gov/light-rail-overlay.htm

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