Workshop focuses on downtown livability

Downtown Bellevue has a lot of room to grow, and there's no doubt it will. Residents speaking in one of several work groups at a Downtown Livability Study open house advocated that growth not squeeze out open spaces there and finding incentives for developers to do so.

The workshops were led by city staff and members of the community advisory committee that is drafting recommendations for how to ensure downtown remains vibrant and livable for its growing residential population, with final recommendations to soon be brought before City Council.

Once the recommendations are made, the city's planning commission will assess what changes will need to be made through the land use code, which will be the most comprehensive update since 1981.

The CAC has not concluded what recommendations should be made for parking and building heights and form, however, city staff had been looking at logistics for increasing the MU — a square perimeter around the core — from 200 feet to 300 feet with a 20 percent FAR — a building's total floor area — increase. It also looked at extending downtown zoning between 112th Avenue Northeast to I-405 and what allowing 350-foot towers there could look like.

John Torrence, who is involved in commercial real estate, argued that too much retail goes into the base of development projects downtown, while architect Walt Niehoff said developers are no longer using open plazas like they did in the '80s. There was agreement that developers wouldn't go along with ideas to increase building heights while slimming their widths without an increase in allowable FAR.

Erin Powell, who serves on the CAC and city's park board, said there has been discussion about a fee structure for developers to allow the city to focus on amenities, such as park space downtown. She said the city can't simply compete with developers to buy downtown property for open spaces and preservation efforts.

"Land is just getting more expensive, and the desire I've heard is there is more want for public space, but how do you get it?" Powell said. "Well, it's money."

Residents agreed increasing heights and development from 112th Avenue Northeast to I-405 makes sense, as it wouldn't add to crosstown traffic and will screen the downtown area from the interstate traffic nearby.

CAC member Jan Stout said she believes residents will be happy with what the committee has come up with, adding the city and Bellevue Downtown Association has looked at Vancouver, British Columbia, and how it has dealt with growth and density issues there. Stout said she is still concerned about the growing number of foreign investors with downtown property holdings, and whether that will affect residents already here.

To learn more about the Downtown Livability Study, click here


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