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Making nice with the neighbors | Lake Bellevue community forms alliance with developer to monitor environment as Bel-Red grows

Michael J. Link, a resident of the Lake Bellevue Village Condos and real estate broker for Windermere, felt ‘that if people like myself didn’t start getting involved in creating a preferred alternative vision, this whole area would get run over.’ -  CELINA KAREIVA, Bellevue Reporter
Michael J. Link, a resident of the Lake Bellevue Village Condos and real estate broker for Windermere, felt ‘that if people like myself didn’t start getting involved in creating a preferred alternative vision, this whole area would get run over.’
— image credit: CELINA KAREIVA, Bellevue Reporter

The Bel-Red corridor is slated for some big changes in the coming years.

On Wednesday, Burnstead Construction’s Pine Forest Properties, Inc. held a public meeting to discuss a multi-use project that, if permitted, could result in six buildings and 2,172 new parking stalls. The space is just north of Lake Bellevue and a car dealership.

City documents indicate that buildings would range from nine to 12 stories. When completed in 2023, East Link light rail will run through the newly minted transit-oriented corridor.

Then of course is the long-anticipated Spring District, a 36-acre urban neighborhood spearheaded by Seattle firm Wright Runstad & Company and Shorenstein Properties of San Francisco, at the site of Safeway’s former distribution center. Modeled after Portland’s Pearl District, the site will include a hotel, parks, plazas, retail, business spaces and more than 1,000 new residences.

The news has generated mixed responses from neighbors, many of whom are happy for the injection of money and business, but wary of its long-term impacts on traffic levels, livability and future construction. Kemper Development Company and Woosley Properties, which worried an increase in congestion on the streets adjacent to the Spring District would negatively impact neighbors, appealed the city's acceptance of the development's master plan in fall of last year. The resulting agreement called for a traffic impact analysis. A third appeal, filed on behalf of the Lake Bellevue Village Homeowners’ Association (HOA), said the project could bring flooding, water pollution, lower water levels and property values.  Though later settled, some neighbors are now banding together to make sure their voices aren’t drowned out.

“When I started hearing about the Spring District development, I got the sense that it was trying to create its own community,” says Michael J. Link, a resident of the Lake Bellevue Village Condos and real estate broker for Windermere, who serves on both HOA and the Lake Bellevue Water Quality Association. “It’s like, where’s the connection? You can’t just drop yourself into the middle of the street and now have a community. We’ve had a community here for a long time…I realized that if people like myself didn’t start getting involved in creating a preferred alternative vision, this whole area would get run over.”

Earlier this month the Lake Bellevue Water Quality Association and the Lake Bellevue Village Homeowners Association formed an alliance with Wright Runstad and Shorenstein Properties, agreeing to more closely monitor the environment of the lake and surrounding area while ensuring cohesion between current neighbors and future developments. The Lake Bellevue Subbasin Alliance, says Link who will serve as president, is part of the settlement agreement.

But focus on the environment isn’t unique to neighborhood demands. The rezone of the Bel-Red corridor put particular emphasis on sustainable development including stream enhancements, natural drainage practices and the creation of parks and more open spaces, elements that have been incorporated into the Spring District’s plans in the form of landscaping and pedestrian pathways.

Wright Runstad representatives were not available for comment.

“As a part of that settlement agreement, the developer agreed to do all stormwater regulations, runoff rules, construction hour [guidelines],” explains Link, “but on top of that will work with us closely on how to tie the community together. I think they heard us loud and clear regarding the lake and water quality. They knew that with apartments and office space up there, people will be coming down here as well.”

Decades ago, as Bellevue’s skyline grew, says Link, the city’s inclination was to pave over streams and marshy environments in favor of the buildings that quickly popped up. Lake Bellevue, says Link, is natural but urban lakes degrade with time, losing their groundwater and becoming increasingly polluted. While walking one sunny day last week, he points out the milfoil at the base of the lake that clouds the water. Algae feed on phosphorous, pollutants from runoff and urbanization.

“We want to get rid of that,” he said, gesturing at a shimmery streak of oil in the water below one condo.

He references past projects like the day-lighting of Thornton Creek in Northgate as examples of what can happen if the neighborhood advocates for itself alongside big development.

The work won’t end with the Spring District either. Link says that light rail and the widening of 120th Avenue Northeast are also issues deserving of the neighborhood’s attention.

“I’ve been a proponent of the development ever since I became a realtor. In all my listings I’ve been promoting it—look what will be next door [with] light rail. These are things that are huge assets to this area, if it’s done right. One goal for the alliance is in exchange for doing this development we’re putting measures in place that not only protect the lake but enhance it.”

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