Bellevue Council Update: A Major Restart of Planning for Wilburton’s Transit-Oriented Development

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An aerial view of the East Link light rail construction with downtown Bellevue in the distance. (Credit: Sound Transit)

With a unanimous vote on Monday evening, Bellevue City Council directed staff to begin the planning process for a massive rezoning of the Wilburton neighborhood near the opening of the Link light rail station in 2023. Council also received another update on the environmental stewardship initiative and had an unexpected review of the rules for remote participation of board and committee members.

Wilburton’s planning process officially begins

While future discussions of the zone are sure to see conflict and disagreement, there seems to be one fact that council members, staff and public commentators at Monday night’s meeting could all agree on. Agreement: The rezoning of the Wilburton neighborhood represents an incredible opportunity to create thousands of transit-oriented housing units alongside vibrant public amenities and pathways.

Council decisions and staff planning work, which is expected to last the next two years, will shape the development of the neighborhood over the coming decades. It is therefore paramount that the city implement policies that support diverse types of housing, prioritize affordable housing to fill the substantial void in Bellevue, and create sustainable transportation options for people who do not travel by car.

Staff highlighted how the process will leverage the simultaneous update of the overall plan to create efficiencies in staff time and complete the project as quickly as possible, but there were still pressures from public commentators and board members to go even faster than the schedule proposed by staff. Citing the years of process required for both the recent East Main rezoning and Wilburton’s planning initiative, Deputy Mayor Jared Nieuwenhuis said, “We are behind in some areas. Whenever I hear from someone who wants to be in Bellevue but can’t or someone who was in Bellevue but isn’t, I think of those opportunities [to move faster].”

Wilburton planning timeline with engagement phases
The timeline proposed by city staff would see no changes to the overall plan until late 2023, with final land use code changes allowing for redevelopment in mid-2024, a year after the planned opening of ‘East Link. (Credit: City of Bellevue)

To that end, Council Member Jennifer Robertson introduced a motion to define the densities proposed in the 2018 Wilburton Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) report as the projected benchmark for growth in the corridor, as well as to define the scope of the environmental review of the area. . This measure could help accelerate staff deliverables by putting these key policies in place now, instead of later this year after further community outreach.

Besides Board member Conrad Lee, who claimed that the Board had not had sufficient time to review or discuss the results of the ACC report, the motion was unanimously approved. The Board expects staff to come back with more specific dates on when the body will need to take action or be notified of updates, so hopefully the motion can help shorten the timeline for this important planning work.

Environmental stewardship: increase in upcoming budget proposals

Due to pressure from community advocates, updates on Bellevue’s implementation of its Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) have become a quarterly tradition for the City Council. The spring edition of the staff presentation highlighted some sustainability gains, including the final adoption of the mobility implementation plan and the continued implementation of the city’s green building support program . This initiative helps properties apply for state-level green building grants and provides technical support to help buildings meet Washington State’s green building standards. Staff also highlighted the Bellevue Climate Challengea competitive engagement initiative that inspires community members to reduce their environmental impact by modifying their daily actions.

However, the weight of emission reductions should not be about individuals — reducing the impacts of climate change will require bolder actions from all levels of government. To that end, Board members Janice Zahn and Jeremy Barksdale highlighted their continued desire to assess the budget for ISE implementation and possibly increase it to recruit more staff. Per their instructions, ESI staff will return later this year with funding scenarios for different staffing levels for the Board to consider. Zahn also asked staff to consider incorporating electrification of city park vehicles into discussions about an upcoming park levy. The opinion of other board members on this proposal will likely be revealed later this summer, when the board is expected to finalize the list of projects for the November levy.

Remote participation sparks new conflict

The evening’s deliberations ended with a slight curve, as a previously point on the consent schedule was withdrawn by council member Robertson for further discussion. At their March 22 meeting, Council reconciled the disagreements and eventually proposed an order that would allow members of city commissions and councils to continue participating remotely, but with some restrictions. There would be no restriction on the number of times a commissioner could participate remotely (before Covid-19 the restriction was a maximum of four times a year), but a meeting could not have more than three members participating remotely (previously two).

Robertson, who had previously voted to support the proposal, said on Monday the policy did not do enough to prevent people from participating remotely and again cited concerns about the accountability and commitment of committee members. . Councilman Lee, who chose to abstain in the March vote, agreed and stressed that a commission position represents a commitment to the city and should be honored as such. He endorsed Robertson’s new proposal to bring remote participation more in line with pre-Covid guidelines and not allow committee members participating remotely to count towards a meeting’s quorum.

After further concerns about equity and inclusion, Deputy Mayor Nieuwenhuis proposed an amendment that would have maintained the night’s original ordinance, but added language indicating that in-person participation by commission members was preferred. . Councilman Zahn, drawing parallels to Mayor Robinson’s previous comments on universal design, expressed concern about the message that would be sent to members of the community with disabilities if the language of the city expressed priority for participation. in person.

“When I think of universal design, it’s not just about physical spaces. It’s a matter of process. It’s about how we create space for inclusion, regardless of how people present themselves. I’m a little worried that if we set up [language like] ‘preferred in person’ and ‘accommodation’, what we really mean is that if you are physically unable to attend, you are treated as ‘less than’ and we must accommodate you. And this philosophy, I find it just problematic.

Councilor Janice Zahn, April 25, 2022

After a visibly frustrated back-and-forth, members united behind a proposal by council member John Stokes to defer discussion to a future meeting and asked staff to return to council at an undetermined date with a proposal that incorporated requests from board members regarding equity and accessibility. Since it appears that some Board members’ views on remote participation are so fundamentally different, it is unclear whether staff will be able to reconcile their competing interests in a proposal that makes all members happy. Until then, however, the current rules allowing unlimited remote participation by board and committee members will remain in place.


Eastern Senior Reporter

Chris is an environmental science graduate from UW who moved to Bellevue in 2015. When he’s not busy being an urban fox on the internet, he works in the Eastside supporting pollution reduction efforts. greenhouse gas emissions and goes to city council meetings to denounce the hegemony of the automobile. Infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter at @Deutski1.

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