Residents of Newport Hills are up in arms over a proposed rezoning project which could turn a shopping center into a high-density, multi-family townhome complex.
Opponents of the plan say that business dealings will shove out local business while increasing congestion on the roads and in the schools. The company looking into the project said it was far too early into the project to be able to predict exactly what would happen.
The Newport Hills Shopping Center is a low-slung strip mall built in the 1960s on Southeast 56th Street and 119th Avenue Southeast. It has struggled to keep tenants in recent years, but neighborhood institutions Mustard Seed Grill & Pub and Stod’s Baseball are some of the existing tenants. Resonate Brewery + Pizzeria opened late last year in the shopping center.
Red Apple grocery store, Hallmark and a pharmacy all closed their doors in the shopping center in 2009. A Bank of America branch suit followed in 2011.
A plan between current owners, RainierNW, and prospective buyers, Intracorp, could turn the 5.9-acre development from “neighborhood business” zoning to “Multifamily-High,” adding 110 townhomes and street-level retail shops fronting 119th Avenue Southeast as the Newport Hills Village.
David MacDuff, vice president of development for Intracorp Real Estate, said that was a responsible vision for the project.
“The zoning we are planning for the residential portion of the site would be R-30 (which means up to 30 units per acre could be built). Our concept calls for less that –it’s currently about 23 units per acre. Ours includes townhomes (owned and not rental), rather than multifamily apartments,” he wrote in an email. “The non-residential portion of the property (where new commercial space will be constructed) will remain [neighborhood business] as currently designated.”
The zoning would have to pass review by the city of Bellevue for a Comprehensive Plan Amendment.
This proposal has met with significant backlash from community members during an open comment period.
“The plan is to tear down everything and build a complex based on the Renton Landing,” said Victoria Radabaugh, a Newport Hills resident. “Which would be wonderful, but not a fit in Newport Hills. I have children in the neighborhood, and buses already can’t get off the hill in the morning rush hour.”
Most complainants don’t have a problem with revitalizing the older strip mall, but do have problems with adding more than 100 families to a congested section of town and to Newport Heights Elementary and Tyee Middle School.
According to the Bellevue School District, May enrollment at those two schools was 979 at Tyee and 653 for Newport Heights. Capacity for the schools is 1,149 and 690 respectively.
MacDuff said a school impact study will be conducted.
Odle Middle School (currently located at the Ringdall site in Newport Hills) and Jing Mei Elementary are also in the area, but will not be impacted by population growth in the neighborhood because of their unique situations.
“What we’re opposing isn’t the plan, the plan is actually really nice,” said Heidi Dean, member of the Newport Hills Community Club. “But it’s not a fit for our neighborhood. [Multifamily-High zoning] is not a fit for Newport Hills.”
Intracorp has reached out to residents and has found support for the plan. Some residents have stated they appreciate the live/work aspect of the plan and the revitalization of an older building complex. Intracorp will study traffic impacts in response to neighborhood concerns about traffic, MacDuff said.
MacDuff wrote on May 11 that the outreach effort included mailing letters to more than 215 households near the site and to community groups. Five community meetings, emails to neighborhood leaders and meetings with existing tenants were other facets of the outreach.
“We know the site has a long history with the community and it was important for us to meet with as many people as we could,” he wrote. “We will continue this dialogue with neighbors as we move forward.”
There will be a meeting at 6 p.m. June 1 at Bellevue City Hall with the Bellevue Planning Commission to determine if the rezoning permit meets criteria for a Comprehensive Plan Amendment. If so, it will move on to be studied by the Bellevue city council.