In the past few decades, the suburban community of Bellevue, Washington has transitioned from a quiet suburb to a thriving hub, thanks to new developments in the downtown neighborhood. The lively energy of its downtown has increased the population in its center fivefold since 2000, making downtown one of Bellevue’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.
Bellevue has embraced these six tools to attract new residents and employers:
- Increased residential development. Since the latest development cycle began in 2013, downtown Bellevue has seen around two dozen new residential developments. Already, $800 million worth of new developments have gone in, with $100 million more set to begin. So far over 12 developments have been finished, with another 10 under construction. Missing from that mix is affordable housing, however: Drastically less affordable housing has been built in Bellevue since 2003 than before. Newly passed zoning regulations aim to address this oversight.
- Increased density. Downtown Bellevue is one of the most dense neighborhoods in Bellevue, with the benefits that come with added density like restaurants and shops within walking distance, creating a lively, energetic vibe that appeals to younger people. Jim Melby, the president of Kemper Development, believes that downtown Bellevue “is becoming its own urban core.”
- Increase in apartment stock. The majority of the new development downtown Bellevue has seen are apartments, as opposed to the condos and office towers previous development surges have seen. Although a few major office and retail projects are still being developed, a development cycle that has seen the addition of 1.5 million square feet of office space, most of the development is residential apartments.
- Zoning changes. Downtown Bellevue is working to add density through taller buildings and street changes to make walking easier for residents. This is the first change that has been made to zoning in three decades. Originally Bellevue didn’t allow for tall buildings, and the process took 13 meetings in 2013 and 2014 by a citizen’s group to define recommendations for the planning commission.
- Strategic Investment. Other goals of the new zoning regulations are: increase the width of sidewalks, encourage unique buildings to create a unique skyline, add more affordable housing, and concentrated density at future light-rail stations. Bellevue is in the process of investing $300 million to expand roads to new developments, expanding Interstate 405, and add light rail. Additionally, 1,350 acres have been zoned for transit-oriented development.
- A defining job market. Bellevue has developed into a tech hub, holding offices for Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Expedia, and Boeing, among others. Wallace Properties President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wallace says, “Bellevue has seen a massive transformation over the last 25 years, primarily due to Microsoft and Kemper Development,” and believes that the growth of Microsoft attracted employees from around the world, turning Bellevue from a suburb to one of the most diverse cities in the country.
“A lot of millennials, they want to be where the action is….That’s why they’re building this stuff. There’s a market for it. It’s creating a lively, energetic, interesting neighborhood where people want to live,” said Bellevue’s development services director Mike Brennan.
Despite these positive changes, the rapid growth of Bellevue has created two problems: traffic and housing affordability. As the population increases, so does the number of cars on the road, creating traffic congestion. The lack of public transit infrastructure that could support a car-free lifestyle has led to the construction of new, costly underground parking spaces. Many residents have also noted an increase in traffic accidents and lack of transit infrastructure to support the new developments. Additionally, rent across downtown Bellevue has increased 35 percent over the last five years as many of the new apartments are higher-end units with amenities like valet parking, wine lockers, and waterfront views. The cost of housing prices have increased 65 percent since 2012, keeping in mind that most homes around downtown Bellevue are small condos.
One couple residing in Bellevue sees Bellevue as a comfortable mix of urban jungle and classic suburbia, noting that they can walk everywhere they need to, but local shop owners still know their names. A recent study sums up Bellevue’s complexities: residents that believed Bellevue was headed in the right direction cited growth and new development as the top reason why; residents that believed Bellevue was headed in the right direction also cited growth and development as their top reason.