A Sound Transit concept design altered by Link Design to show what it would look like to add a shelter (in orange) on city-owned property after a boundary line adjustment. Graphic courtesy of Link Design

Bellevue City Council discusses alternative location for Eastside men’s shelter

Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace has a different idea for the location of the Eastside men’s shelter.

Initially proposed for Eastgate, the new location would be on city-owned property in the BelRed neighborhood along 120th Avenue Northeast, just north of Audi Bellevue.

The property is near Sound Transit’s proposed maintenance facility and its eventual transit-oriented development site. And it’s the same general area where the temporary men’s winter shelter was held for many years before it moved to Lincoln Center.

“When it was at the old location where Sound Transit’s putting the maintenance facility, nobody was complaining about it at all,” Wallace said. “So, to me, if we can move it to the BelRed site, we have this great opportunity to have the community support it instead of oppose it.”

BelRed site

Wallace, who works at Wallace Properties Inc., began looking at the site in April after he directed city staff to add the Lincoln Center and the BelRed locations for a permanent shelter consideration.

But things took a turn when Sound Transit delivered their concept design of their maintenance facility and transit-oriented development in June. Sound Transit and the city had entered into a non-legally-binding memorandum of understanding in 2015 for Sound Transit’s use of city property, but Wallace said there was never a commitment made to transfer it. Yet, the concept design presented in June had buildings clearly encroaching on city property.

“This is without any input from the city, they come in here and these buildings start taking over the property Bellevue has,” Wallace said, adding that the way Bellevue’s property juts into Sound Transit’s plans makes the parcel “a complete waste” for the city and for Sound Transit, unless they come up with an agreement.

However, Sound Transit sent a letter to the city on Aug. 28 stating the proposal to place the shelter there is “inconsistent with objectives set forth in existing carefully-negotiated agreements between the city and Sound Transit governing the construction of East Link and the development of the planned [transit-oriented development].”

“Moreover, introducing this unplanned element at this late date has the potential to introduce unnecessary process and delay,” the letter continued. “For these reasons, Sound Transit has no interest in revisiting its planned designs …”

Wallace said the deal is not done and none of the city staff believes it’s done either.

Solution?

Wallace said the solution is to do a boundary line adjustment between the city’s property and Sound Transit’s. This adjustment would maintain the parcel’s 47,280 square feet but would reshape the land so that it could fit a multi-story shelter. This adjustment would allow all of the parties involved to begin construction on the shelter right away, Wallace said.

But Sound Transit’s concept design would change slightly.

Wallace said two buildings would maintain their residential dimensions but would be turned about 90 degrees so as to fit within the new property line. Wallace used architectural firm Link Design to come up with a new concept that adds grade, a parking garage and an entry point for that garage.

“All of their goals can be accommodated with this plan and all of our goals can be accommodated with it,” he said.

With the line adjustment, the shelter would not only be able to provide counseling and training for homeless men, it would be able to sleep 100, provide day center access to 125 and have congregate or studio apartments on the upper levels.

“The idea with the studio units is as they’re getting more stable, they can move up to the top floor in a unit where they would pay rent and it would be more like a low-income housing situation,” Wallace said.

Opposition

Not every council member agrees with Wallace’s out-of-the-box thinking.

At Monday’s council meeting, Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak outwardly disagreed with a few of Wallace’s ideas.

“I think there are some issues with what Councilmember Wallace put forward,” Chelminiak said, noting he “didn’t want to have a fight.”

Chelminiak reminded the council of the multiple-year process it took with the city and A Regional Coalition for Housing to use the Eastgate Pubic Health site from King County, as well as the partnerships between that entity and Imagine Housing and Congregations For the Homeless that have been established.

He said the city has had an extensive public process on the Eastgate site, in which the crowd responded with groans during Monday’s meeting. And he said the August 2016 letter of agreement between those parties had unanimous support.

Chelminiak said a “significant” amount of retail would disappear from new concept, however, Wallace noted Sound Transit’s concept had about 1,800 square feet. Chelminiak also questioned the location of the road that would pass through and the use of a fence, which Wallace later clarified would be used during construction only.

Chelminiak’s biggest point of contention, however, was the many stakeholders, including REI, that had been involved and working with this transit-oriented development concept in mind.

“I appreciate the work, I just wish you would appreciate the work other people have done,” Chelminiak said of Wallace.

While some on the council were outright supportive of Wallace’s idea, such as Councilmember Jennifer Robertson, others, such as Councilmember Lynne Robinson, questioned the shelter’s proximity to transit-oriented development multi-family housing, as having a shelter near homes was a major issue with Eastgate residents who don’t want the shelter in their neighborhood.

Wallace and other Bellevue residents who later responded at the end of the meeting, said building a shelter before multi-family housing allows the developer of the apartments to design with the shelter in mind. Whereas placing the shelter in an already established neighborhood affects current residents as opposed to future ones.

The council directed city staff to provide more information for council to consider at a later date.