Neighborhoods get attention at Bellevue candidates’ forum

The six city council candidates on this fall's ballot met again Tuesday night at a forum in Newport Hills, this time focusing primarily on neighborhood issues, like the revival of the local shopping center and traffic congestion.

The six city council candidates on this fall’s ballot met again Tuesday night at a forum in Newport Hills, this time focusing primarily on neighborhood issues, like the revival of the local shopping center and traffic congestion.

In Position 2, Mayor Conrad Lee is running against Lyndon Heywood, a graphic designer who emigrated from London in 2004. Incumbent councilmember Kevin Wallace faces Steve Kasner, a member of the East Bellevue Community Council for Position 4. And in Position 6, Lynne Robinson is facing Vandana Slatter after both polled more votes than incumbent councilmember Don Davidson.

“That particular proposal got washed out in the sea of light rail. It never saw the light of day again,” said Kasner of efforts to revamp zoning and business in the Newport Hills Shopping Center. “And once again you were left holding the bag.”

Like Lake Hills and Kelsey Creek before, the neighborhood of Newport Hills has struggled to keep a shopping center afloat after it was hit hard by the recession and the loss of its anchor business, Red Apple, in 2009. Bill Pace has since opened a fresh produce market in the center, but that has also attracted less business than originally hoped. Candidates agreed that the issues facing Newport Hills were indicative of changes citywide.

“The neighborhoods and communities definitely took a little bit of a backseat (to light rail)” said Slatter, a medical liaison for Amgen Inc.

When asked how candidates could update the shopping center, ideas ranged from building a senior living facility, first put forward by Robinson, to infusing the center with small storefronts and “third places.”

“With all this development going on in the downtown and in the Bel-Red corridor…we need to look at our our own infrastructure here,” Robinson said. “Because as has been said, it’s crumbling. We have sidewalks and streets crumbling. Newport Hills has great opportunities to make changes and improvements. We just have to come together to decide what you want and how to find funding for it. That’s a big priority for me.”

Among the issues facing the council these next few years is an update of the city’s comprehensive plan, selection of a new city manager and development of corridors like Bel-Red, zoned for transit-oriented development.

Heywood, Mayor Lee’s challenger has run on the message that city staff and council have been unresponsive to the community. He conceded that the city had unpopular decisions to make in the next few years, but said: “(people) don’t believe the city government works for us anymore.”

Lee, who has been mayor for the last two years and lived in Bellevue for 46, emphasized that while light rail had made for a time-consuming agenda item, as a massive regional project, it required the full-attention of council.

“Bellevue is growing at a rapid rate, faster than most cities,” said Lee. “When we’re doing well we don’t want to become complacent…We need a vision and that involves you.”

Wallace also touted light rail as an accomplishment of the current council, saying the last few years had presented some of the city’s biggest challenges, including a budget ravaged by the recession. He noted despite the tough times, during his last four years on council, property taxes were not hiked.

Wallace and his opponent, Kasner, have been vocal about their differing stance on taxes. Wallace has promised not to raise property taxes without a vote. Kasner has said the city is too dependent on a sales-tax model, which he says is only beneficial during times of growth.

“The biggest challenge we have is maintaining the balance of the city. The reason Bellevue is the great city it is, is because the present council and the council before, have kept that balance…we keep doing (projects) in each area,” Wallace said. “Newport Hills is an example of that. In the last four years, despite being in a recession, despite having declines in our revenue, we have acquired new park property, redeveloped (it) with a turf field…We’ve continued to make the neighborhood vibrant.”

Ballots for the November election go out Oct. 17.