Bellevue city councilmembers received their first update Monday on the progress being made by a citizen advisory committee exploring how to enhance living downtown while also bracing for substantial population growth by 2030.
The Downtown Livability CAC has reached a “milestone,” finding direction on alternatives for updating the downtown subarea’s land use code, said Dan Stroh, deputy director of planning and community development. The original LUC has been on the books since 1981.
But the landscape is changing fast. The downtown population is expected to double by 2030 from its 10,500 residents currently, said Emil King, city strategic planning manager, and there is about 50 percent of the downtown area left to be developed.
The boundary of focus is 100th Avenue Northeast to the west, Northeast 12th Street to the north, I-405 to the east and Main Street as the jagged southern border. King said land use code audits will help make improvements without starting over.
“It really helped diagnose the opportunities for which to focus on, acknowledging that we don’t want to tear the code apart entirely,” he said. “I think we want to fix things that need fixing and not start from scratch.”
There are multiple zoning and design districts within the area, and a few councilmembers expressed concerns about options to increase height and floor area ratio — a building’s total floor area — restrictions moving away from the downtown core.
City staff is looking at logistics for increasing the MU District — a square perimeter around the core — from 200 feet to 300 feet with a 20 percent FAR increase. It is also looking at extending downtown zoning between 112th Avenue Northeast to I-405 and what allowing 350-foot towers there could look like.
“In that area we are looking at the potential for a very big increase,” King said.
“It really does feel like an awful lot, it does,” said Mayor Claudia Balducci. “It feels like, and I’m going to steal this phrase, we’re going to take a slice of Manhattan and just drop it into the middle of downtown Bellevue.”
Councilmember Jennifer Robertson said it may make sense to have taller buildings from 112th to I-405 — an office and limited business zone — because of the light rail station coming at East Main Street and the numbers of people it will bring with it.
Robertson reminded the council the point of the initiative is to make downtown more livable, meaning more public amenities. She added downtown Bellevue is only about 2.7 percent of the city’s total land area.
Councilmember John Chelminiak cautioned about relying so much on downtown to carry the bulk of growth in Bellevue, pointing out that’s why the city has other projects, such as the Bel-Red Corridor Plan and Eastgate, its working on.
“Sometimes animals die, or birds die, when they get too fat,” he said in regard to Councilmember Conrad Lee referring to the downtown area as a golden goose for the city. “What I see here is an intensity that goes beyond what we should be considering.”