Dusty road construction and detours are the only signs of the forthcoming mixed-use neighborhoods, walkable community centers, and mass transit lines coming to the Bel-Red corridor.
All in good time, Bellevue officials say. Careful planning must be followed by careful execution, and after a decade of planning, Bellevue is in the beginning stages of a major transformation east of downtown.
“Probably the biggest issue with the Bel-Red plan is the infrastructure, and trying to create infrastructure to support it in what was a significant recession,” says Chris Salomone, Bellevue’s director of planning and community development. “We’re now constructing those projects as more resources have become available.”
The infrastructure build-out is evident in the road-realignment projects on Northeast Fourth and 15th streets, and 120th and 124th avenues northeast. But Sound Transit’s East Link construction is the most significant project on the docket. The light rail tracks originally were planned to travel along the Highway 520 corridor, but they were moved to surface streets to foster economic opportunities and walkable communities.
Spring District and Pine Forest — the area’s lesser-known mixed-use project — are pieces of the comprehensive Bel-Red corridor plan, adopted by the city council in 2009. It incorporates approximately 900 acres of light industrial area between the Microsoft campus in Redmond and downtown Bellevue. Bel-Red’s revitalization has caused the city to adjust the way it approaches zoning and planning standards. As the process progressed, East Link became a defining characteristic.
“Things like parking, pedestrian connections, multimodal connections, and multidensity housing; all those things changed because of the light rail project,” Salomone says.
A decision the Sound Transit board made in July to create a maintenance facility within a half-mile of the future 120th Avenue light rail station was a setback to city planners. Hubbub has since subsided, and the city is now taking the decision in stride.
“The city is disappointed that’s the location of the rail yard because it’s actually in the high-density node for the 120th station,” says Salomone. “Despite that, the Spring District is moving forward. The planning for … Pine Forest is moving forward. Our focus now is on how to address the impact of that rail yard.”
Final environmental impact reports and more design and planning are underway for the maintenance site, says Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray. Other site options still are on the table, Gray says, but pending any major setback, the rail yard will indeed be located near the 120th Avenue station.
The maintenance facility will adversely affect the area’s walkability and aesthetics, but it barely disrupts the projected benefits of East Link.
“(The Bel-Red corridor has) been the dream of this city, and it was incredibly enlightened planning. I think that corridor … will be one of the most significant developments in Washington,” Salomone says. “Sound Transit’s light rail project is key to that.”