Over the weekend, Bellevue rolled out new changes (.pdf) to its land use code amendments in response to the NIMBYs that swarmed the City’s public hearing last week. From what we’ve heard, the changes are a last ditch-effort that could end up delaying East Link by months, maybe even years. Sound Transit is so concerned with the new amendments that they even sent East Link’s project director to testify against them at the council’s meeting Tuesday night.
Among the changes are three technical code revisions, any combination of which could end up having some negative impact to East Link:
- Height restrictions that could be determined by a lengthy regulatory process
- A 30-foot setback from the edge of the alignment to residential property lines
- A 60-foot setback from the edge of the alignment to residential building structures
The height limit provision would require Sound Transit to prove the height of all East Link facilities to be the “minimum necessary for effective functioning,” either through a development agreement or a conditional use permit (CUP). While Bellevue has yet to make the call on which permitting path it wants to use, things could get messy if East Link were subject to a CUP. Just imagine: determining whether certain segments of East Link are the appropriate height alone would have its own review process!
The new setback provisions would apply in what the City is calling residential “transition zones” along the south Bellevue alignment. These are buffers that would effectively shield nearby residents from Link — 30 feet for a landscape buffer plus an additional 30 feet to a structure, making a grand total of 60 feet from the edge of the alignment to the nearest house. Although 60 feet seems inconsequential, the new setbacks could easily chew up more properties that Sound Transit would have to condemn and pay for.
The worst code change would restrict Sound Transit’s ability to apply for city permits. Under the new provision, they would have to wait until after negotiating with property owners and initiating the formal condemnation process before applying. That could leave the entire East Link schedule to the whim of one or more homeowners, many of whom have already pledged to fight Sound Transit tooth and nail. By city staff’s own admission, the restriction is so out of the ordinary that it’s something Bellevue is unwilling to impose on even its own projects!
Voters have waited too long for regional rail expansion to deal with Bellevue’s antics. If you’re interested at all in keeping East Link moving forward, urge the City Council to vote against the new land use code changes. But do so before Monday, when they’re expected to adopt the entire package of code amendments.