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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 8, 2009

Council Roundup: ambitious transportation plan endorsed

Also, Botanical Park master plan gets update and accountants honor city for clear financial reports

A far-reaching initiative designed to respond to downtown transportation demands and future growth in the Bel-Red area was endorsed Monday by the City Council.

The new 15th Street would be the central corridor in the Bel-Red area.The 10-year plan for calls for the construction or expansion of five major arterials to improve access to downtown and Bel-Red for transit, drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. The city has targeted the two areas for more intense development to meet the state's growth management requirements to reduce sprawl.

Approval of the projects comes at a time when transportation has been identified by residents as the top concern citywide. The blueprint also calls for major enhancements to the city's computerized traffic light system to better control traffic flows and reduce congestion on key arterials, creation of a shuttle bus service for downtown and construction of new bicycle and pedestrian pathways.

Council is expected to finalize the plan's various funding mechanisms in coming weeks.

"This is hugely important and forward-thinking on the part of the City Council," City Manager Steve Sarkozy said. "Not only does it respond to existing transportation and other challenges, but it insures the Bel-Red area, like our downtown, evolves in coming years to become a significant asset for the entire community and Eastside."

In recent years Bellevue's downtown has experienced massive growth, with thousands of new workers and residents. A proposed rezone of Bel-Red, east of the downtown, is expected to spur more intense development there as Sound Transit moves ahead with plans for a new light rail line through Bellevue to Overlake. The new investments will supplement the city's existing capital program. Plans call for: 

  • Improving access to downtown: To help move traffic from downtown to the east and northeast parts of the city, new capital projects will extend Northeast Fourth Street, from 116th to 120th Avenue Northeast, and extend Northeast Sixth Street from Interstate 405 to 120th Avenue Northeast to relieve congestion and provide faster access for transit, carpools and vanpools.
  • Improving access in the Bel-Red area: The transportation centerpiece for the Bel-Red plan is Northeast 15th Street, a new east-west connection that would accommodate light rail, vehicles, bikes and walkers, helping to connect downtown and Overlake. Other plans call for widening 120th Avenue Northeast to five lanes, with sidewalks and bike lanes, from Northeast Eighth Street to Northup Way, and widening 124th Avenue Northeast from Northeast 15th Street to the SR 520 interchange.
  • Other upgrades to support growth: Several other components of the 10-year plan include pedestrian, bike and neighborhood sidewalk improvements; a variety of downtown projects; enhancements to the city's signal system; a downtown circulator bus; money to buy the vacant lot next to city hall for a downtown fire station and other facilities; and funds to acquire property in the Bel-Red area.

To pay for the many investments, Council has pursued a balanced financial plan that seeks to spread the cost among developers, owners of property adjacent to the improvements and property owners citywide. The guiding philosophy is that those who benefit from the improvements should help pay for them. A variety of funding approaches will be employed, including:

  • Property tax: Plans calls for a 3 percent annual increase in Bellevue's share of the property tax over the next 10 years. Increases must be approved each year by Council. The owner of a $626,000 Bellevue home will pay about $14 more in property taxes in 2009 as a result of the 3 percent boost.
  • Impact fees: Transportation impact fees -- the amount of money Bellevue charges developers of new projects, based on the number of new car trips generated by the project -- are expected to rise, generating about $65 million. The exact amount of the fees and how the increases would be phased in will be decided by Council.
  • Local Improvement Districts: Under this proposal, two local improvement districts, or LIDs, would be formed. Consisting of owners of property near streets slated for improvements, the idea is that those who benefit through increased property values help pay for the capital projects over time. Assessment amounts have not yet been determined; they will be based on factors such as the size of the property and its proximity to the improvements.
  • Other revenue sources: Storm drainage utility funds to pay for storm water and drainage improvements, future new tax revenue generated in the Bel-Red area due to new development, state and federal grant money, "incentive zoning" provision allowing more intense private development in exchange for public amenities, and cost savings from right-of-way land provided by property owners in return for development credits.

The Council study session background material offers more information about the Mobility and Infrastructure Initiative.

Feedback: Matt Terry, Department of Planning and Community Development Director, 425-452-6191 or mterry@bellevuewa.gov

Botanical Garden master plan updated
The City Council approved an update of the Bellevue Botanical Garden's master plan that calls for a new visitor center, an education center and a parking lot triple the size of the current one. Other features to be added to the Garden include a "tree house" and a small suspension foot bridge.

The Botanical Garden is a Bellevue landmark, featuring an array of flora in a variety of gardens. City officials decided to pursue improvements to the Garden to meet increasing demand, offer more educational programming and accommodate 17 acres of open space acquired in 2006.

While most display gardens and trails will not be affected, the changes are intended to make the garden more accessible to more people. The new entrance, complete with a 1,450-foot visitor services center, will be right on Main Street. The new 4,200-square-foot education center will have meeting rooms for up to 60 people, which could be converted to lecture space for up to 120.

In June 2007, Council approved a contract with JGM Landscape Architects to assist the city with the master plan update. After an extensive community process, the Parks & Community Services Board recommended adoption of the update last March. An environmental review was completed in the fall. 

The recently passed parks levy, together with contributions from the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society, will provide the initial funding for what will be a phased, multi-year project.

Feedback: Glenn Kost, Parks Planning and Development Manager, 425-452-5258 or gkost@bellevuewa.gov

Bellevue wins national award for performance reporting
For the fourth consecutive year, Bellevue has been nationally recognized for its efforts in working with residents to determine how the city is performing in key areas such as public safety, neighborhood vitality, quality of life and tax dollar value.

"Once again we are honored to be recognized by the Association of Government Accountants for our efforts in this important area," Bellevue City Manager Steve Sarkozy said. "By continually asking residents how we are doing in critical areas -- and then reporting results back to them -- we can gain a measure of just how well we are performing as a municipality."

AGA established the award program four years ago with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to encourage state and local governments to effectively communicate accomplishments and challenges to residents and other stakeholders.

According to Rich Siegel, the city's Performance and Outreach Coordinator, Bellevue in 2007 -- the last year for which data is available -- met its performance goals in 15 out of 16 areas considered "vital signs," four more than the previous year.

In one of those areas, nine out of 10 residents said they were getting their money's worth for their tax dollar. The same percentage said Bellevue was a good or excellent place to live, while slightly more than 8 out of 10 said the city as a whole was headed in the right direction.

The city, in conjunction with the AGA, recently published a four-page "Report to Our Citizens" to provide residents with an easy-to-read guide on city performance.

Feedback: Rich Siegel, Performance and Outreach Coordinator, 425-452-7114, rcsiegel@bellevuewa.gov

The Council Agendas and Council Minutes pages offer complete information regarding Council meetings.

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