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Bellevue planning director will retire after 30 years of guiding city's growth

Matt Terry, director of planning and community development for the city of Bellevue, will retire in June. In this photo, he stands with his favorite piece of art at Bellevue City Hall. - Chad Coleman / Bellevue Reporter
Matt Terry, director of planning and community development for the city of Bellevue, will retire in June. In this photo, he stands with his favorite piece of art at Bellevue City Hall.
— image credit: Chad Coleman / Bellevue Reporter

Bellevue's longtime planning chief will step down this spring after helping guide the city's urban growth explosion for the past 30 years.

Matt Terry, director of planning and community development, has announced his retirement effective June 4.

Bellevue planning director Dan Stroh will serve as an interim replacement until the city finds a permanent successor for the role.

Mayor Don Davidson calls Terry the city's "planning guru."

"He understands the long-term vision of Bellevue," he said. "We're going to lose someone who's very valuable to the city."

Terry's departure will come shortly after the city makes a critical decision on its preferred light-rail routing – one that could help define the emerging model for transit-oriented development.

"It was intentional," Terry said. "I wanted to be here through the light-rail decision."

During his career with Bellevue, Terry guided several major initiatives, including the development of downtown into a regional hub for retail and employment, and a re-zone of the Bel-Red corridor that will extend the city's urbanization efforts east across Interstate 405.

"What happened in downtown Bellevue has happened faster than I anticipated," Terry said.

But that growth didn't occur without resistance. As planning took place, there were factions that didn't want skyscrapers cropping up next to their single-family homes.

The city appeased those groups by forming a perimeter district that transitions building heights to lower levels along the downtown fringe.

What ultimately developed was a glistening skyline that Terry calls "a gem sitting on the east side of Lake Washington."

"I'm very proud of the Bellevue skyline," he said. "It's becoming more interesting."

In the late 1980s, there were concerns about traffic mitigation for expected developments. The city dealt with that issue by adopting an ordinance that links growth with level-of-service standards for roads.

Terry said it's now time to modify that ordinance in a way that takes transit into account – allowing car traffic to deteriorate so long as alternative forms of transportation perform well, for instance.

Terry's accomplishments in Bellevue also include a conversion of the old Qwest switching station downtown into the City Hall building that holds all major departments of the city, including the police department.

The facility cost $120 million and opened in 2006.

Terry was an early advocate of Bellevue's "city in a park" concept. Several new parks sprung up during his tenure, including Bellevue Botanical Garden, Mercer Slough Nature Park, Bellevue Downtown Park, and Lakemont Community Park.

Terry earned his bachelors and masters degrees at the University of California, Berkeley, and began his career in public service as the assistant city manager of San Jose.

He left that job in 1980 to become Bellevue's assistant planning director, and took over his current position two years later.

Terry plans to work as a consultant during his retirement, but says he'll first spend 30 days mountaineering with his wife and their Australian Shepherd, starting with a 10-day trek along the Boundary Trail.

Terry also plans to indulge his love for woodworking. He spent two years working for a Mennonite cabinet maker before attending graduate school.

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