Bellevue Downtown Livability amendment moves forward in commission

Last week, citizens gave testimony for more than three hours about the proposed Downtown Livability Land Use Code update, identifying key areas which need work.

The Planning Commission will reconvene on March 22 for discussion on the amendment, refining and potential recommendation to City Council.

The proposed plan would seek to make the Downtown area of Bellevue easier to navigate, walk around and more aesthetically pleasing — among other changes.

Emil King, strategic planning manager, said the current draft was a solid one approaching much of the current issues in making Downtown more “livable.”

“The draft to-date does a good job reflecting the direction from the council-appointed Citizens Advisory Committee,” he said. “It’s a solid compilation. There are some areas identified by the commission and stakeholders as needing refinement.”

Some of those issues are from residents of Downtown, developers of buildings and residents of nearby neighborhoods and include limiting maximum building heights in certain sections of Downtown, from 345-feet to 250-feet high. Other concerns include the 40-foot setback of towers from property lines and the legality of incentives to include green and open spaces in new development.

The Downtown area which the land use code amendment would affect is bordered by Interstate 405 on the east, Main Street to the south, 100th Avenue Northeast on the west and Northeast 12th Street on the North. This bordered section would see widened sidewalks, through-block zones for pedestrians and improving the pedestrian experience with better lighting and signage, pedestrian amenities, public art and active uses of the street.

The draft plan would also impact developers, including allowing light and open sky between buildings as well as varied designs to avoid blocky, monotonous buildings. It would also “transition” between Downtown and neighboring residential neighborhoods.

“The [Land Use Code] Update is intended to make subtle changes to the current regulatory structure that can make a huge difference in the quality of place—a place that feels cold, unsafe and place-less versus a place that feels warm, safe and rich in character,” reads a staff report on the draft.

The draft is a portion of a broader Downtown Livability study, and intended to make subtle regulations which will make Downtown more green, pedestrian-friendly and ready for light rail. An “Early Wins Ordinance” was passed by the City Council in March 2016 which provided some early code amendments such as tree requirements, a redefinition of the Downtown boundary and an extension of the Major Pedestrian Corridor.

The Planning Commission will reconvene on March 22 to refine or approve the draft plan.