This concept design shows a reconfiguration of the TOD area to accommodate a shelter (in orange). (Image: Kevin Wallace)

Bellevue is planning a permanent men’s homeless shelter in the city. After a proposed location in the Eastgate area drew controversy, the City considered two alternative locations including one near the planned Sound Transit Link maintenance facility in the Bel-Red area. Sound Transit has opposed this because it is within an area to be marketed for TOD after it is no longer needed for construction staging.

With active construction already underway on East Link, Sound Transit claimed the dispute may imperil the East Link timeline if unresolved.

A nonprofit group, Congregations for the Homeless, has operated a shelter in Bellevue for several years. In recent years, it was in a Sound Transit owned building in Bed-Red that was no longer available once OMF-E construction commenced. More recently, they’ve operated out of a temporary facility on 116th. That building is substandard and cannot be operated year-round, adding to the urgency of a permanent site. For a while, the City appeared to have found a site at the County-owned Eastgate Public Health Center, across the street from the Eastgate park-and-ride. [This paragraph updated for clarity about the history of the CfH shelter in Bel-Red. Comment below]

The reaction of neighbors at Eastgate has been negative. Though not immediately adjacent to homes, Bellevue College is nearby and there are townhomes a few hundred feet away. In April, the Council approved a letter of agreement with the County to consider the Eastgate site, but also asked staff to study two other candidate locations including Bel-Red. This effectively deferred a Bellevue decision on the preferred location, while allowing work with partners to proceed at Eastgate.

At the same time, Sound Transit was refining its OMF-E plans. As part of the design-build for that facility, future surplus property was identified for transit-oriented development after it is no longer needed for construction staging. In June, Sound Transit publicized a site plan that includes a large area of TOD just south of the OMF-E. The conceptual design, prepared for marketing the site to developers, foresees 1.2 million square feet of development with a goal of redevelopment before East Link service commences in 2023.

Bellevue owns a skinny one-acre parcel (a former rail spur) that bisects the proposed TOD area. Because of its shape, the Bellevue parcel cannot be developed independently. But a transfer or exchange of that land is also essential to making the TOD work.

Sound Transit complained about the effect of the homeless shelter on their plans. In a strongly worded letter, Peter Rogoff expressed “no interest in revisiting its planned designs for the OMF East or altering its solicitation for a TOD developer to accommodate this late-breaking concept”.

Rogoff explained Sound Transit’s objection thus:

“A homeless shelter is a specialized use with unique privacy, safety, and liability considerations. For this reason, in new private developments shelters are rarely mixed with residential and commercial uses. It is highly unlikely that developers would respond to an incentive to include a shelter as part of TOD at the OMF East, and highly likely that developers will not respond at all to an offer that requires them to include a shelter on-site.”

TOD plans include a land swap for a Bellevue-owned parcel (in red). (Image: Kevin Wallace)

At last week’s Bellevue City Council meeting, CM Kevin Wallace suggested an alternative solution. With a boundary change to the Bellevue parcel, Sound Transit and Bellevue could execute a 1:1 land swap. Bellevue would have a compact site on the south of the TOD to build the shelter. The TOD area would be reduced by about an acre, but Wallace illustrated a conceptual design of his own that he argued would maintain the marketability of the site. Whereas building a shelter amidst the TOD would not be possible until after 2020, a land swap could enable earlier construction on Bellevue’s parcel.

Similar to what might be built at Eastgate, the concept suggested by Wallace for Bel-Red is a five-story building, with a 100 bed overnight shelter and 125 person day facility on the first two floors. The upper three floors would have 50-60 units of affordable congregate housing for men transitioning out of homelessness. Complementary medical and counseling services would also be within the building.

The Bel-Red site, while avoiding existing Eastgate homeowners, places the shelter rather closer to a larger number of future residents in Bel-Red. Yet, any argument that the shelter is incompatible with Bel-Red TOD backhandedly validates the objections of Eastgate neighbors. Wallace observed that if the shelter and multifamily housing are designed appropriately, they can be built to accommodate each other in advance. There are obvious advantages to the users of the shelter if it is placed in an active area with services rather than at an isolated location.

After November’s election, retirements will mean at least two new members on the Bellevue Council. The location of the shelter is featuring prominently in the election. The 2018 Council will need to select its preferred location for the men’s shelter and agree the land transfer for OMF-E construction. Whether Sound Transit will be more open to the latest proposal remains to be seen. The Council has not voted on the Wallace proposal, though it appeared favorably received by several at last week’s meeting.

33 Replies to “Can Sound Transit make room for a homeless shelter in Bellevue?”

  1. How can people NOT recognize this as a parting “F-U” from Real Estate Developer and outgoing council member Kevin Wallace to Sound Transit and more so to Wright Runstad?

    What a typically cynical and childish move on his part considering the City had spent years formalizing plans for the homeless site near Eastgate.

    Kevin is drowning in sour grapes when it comes to Sound Transit and his lack of vision for the Spring District that Wright Runstad is (correctly) betting big on.

    1. Interesting insight. An alternate question would be…

      How can people NOT recognize this as a “F-U” from Wright Runstad supported council members to the Eastgate community?

      You are right in that “the City had spent years formalizing plans for the homeless site near Eastgate.” but most important part that you unintentionally left out was most of it was done behind closed doors without involving the entire council, Planning Commission and community members. The Eastgate TOD was also being planned for 2 years in parallel without any hints of the shelter plans for the Planning Commission to take into account. When they actually “revealed” all their years of hard work the Mayor called the community feedback as “negative”.

      Kevin’s plan is very sound… and Sound Transit should not outright reject the shelter plan that it’s OMF-E land originally housed and displaced.

    2. I agree with Tee. The process has NOT been transparent. If it wasn’t for community leaders who work tirelessly to dig out the exchanging emails and documents, to attend all the study sessions…etc, we wouldn’t know that there’s a low barrier shelter being built in such a poor location simply because of big developer’s interest. WE NEED our elected officials to represent us and have our best interests in mind. NOT MONEY’s

    1. Not really true, Engineer. We’ve also got the ingrained habit of quickly organizing to handle an emergency without orders. Our problem right now is that we’re having terrible trouble translating these qualities into politics.

      I’d ascribe the worst of it to at least four decades of a very bad economy for the average person.

      Masked by a powerful mechanism of immediately granted very high interest loans to make up for steady decline of both wages and ever less power over choice of work and working conditions.

      Not sure if this blurred distinction between money loaned and money owned has been deliberate- or just a desperation measure that became a habit. But I think major cause our country’s sustained swing toward the right is fact that debt brings out people’s worst.

      Reason that in addition to real homes, the very definition of Transit-Oriented Development should include space for well-paid work much like Ballard’s small-machining economy before it got supplanted by huge real estate speculation.

      What I’d most like to see around a transit center? Well-paid work within an easy walk for a sixteen year old who’s tired of school into a job whose first paycheck can start a healthy adult life. The economy whose disappearance took a lot of compassion with it. But that the transit we build can help bring back.


      1. Mark,

        Those four decades occurred because the previous three were ridiculously tilted in favor of Americans. The past four have been reversion to the mean. Yes that’s the other kind of mean, but it’s unavoidably true. Folks in the lower half of the normal curve in terms of economic value added are going to slip to the global median income without vigorous government action. That action would include some sort of modest guaranteed income and lots of investment in housing.

        Will it happen? Probably only after the Trump coalition has its face ground in the mud by the hedge fundies for another few years.

    2. Re: Engineer

      I think of it as deinterpersonalization (Yeah I made that word up but it makes sense — Well, at least to me lol). Society is like some inanimate object, instead of the sum of all it’s people. Like how a motorist thinks of “other cars on the road” rather than “other people driving cars on the road.” Could you imagine the absurdity of a pile up of shopping baskets at the supermarket because somebody was running past the next guy and cut in front of him; yet that very thing happens every single day on our highways. I think there’s this disconnect where we just don’t think about other people. Maybe it’s not that we’re uncompassionate, we just aren’t seeing it in a way that makes us feel compassion. Or maybe we really are just a bunch of self-centered, egotistical idiots. That’s definately possible too.

      1. Engineer, I should have asked. Are you referring to reaction to the proposed shelter, or to some instances you’ve seen of Americans acting without compassion?

        Same question to you, Josh. Have you seen any instances of people acting with numb selfishness? Strange thing in ordinary driving this past while.

        I’ve gotten into situations, reason I avoid I-5 if I can see ten sets of tail lights- that could’ve gotten a dozen people killed if all of us at the wheel hadn’t reacted perfectly.

        I do think, however, that our media like to discover disturbing phenomena and chew on them for an hour. Which really is beneficial, because it means one National Public Radio hour with nothing about the stock market.

        Which really is unthinkingly inconsiderate. Though there are only two Koch brothers, and only one of them is on the NPR board of directors. So could be I’m meeting a selected sample, but people between ages five and seventy seem invariably friendly and polite.

        However, very careful with my company around people a year or two younger than me. Generally insist we talk only about the future. Which really sorts out my companions. If the past was so great, why’d everybody change it?


      2. Mark/Josh,

        My reference to a lack of compassion is directed at the average American response to a homeless shelter of “not in my neighborhood.” Do people know who the homeless are? Really? I’ve been half a paycheck away from homelessness. I’ve probably sat across the table giving expert advice to people who fight tent cities in their neighborhoods. I’ve gone to church with several homeless people. Where are they now? One is in a PhD program at an Ivy League school. Another works as a delivery driver, performs in community theater, and is a proud husband and father. The “homeless,” those “other” people, in all reality, are just like the rest of us and deserve the same dignity. Some of them fight drug addiction and mental illness. I’ve seen what that looks like too, and they need help and compassion.

        All that being said, your correlation, Mark, to the economy and politics hits the nail on the head. My parents’ generation (baby boomers) squandered the hard-fought battles in labor that were fought by my grandparents (the greatest generation) and great-grandparents (WWI vets and adults during the Great Depression). We are left, today, with conditions that favor the rich, screw the poor, and create vast barriers between people of different economic status. Josh, you are spot-on about people not viewing the world through the correct lens. We need to see that other people we encounter, from the beggar to the car driver to the cashier, are fellow human beings, and deserve respect.

  2. Great piece. Very informative.

    So Sound Transit’s sole objection is the impact on the East Link construction and opening schedule?

    1. The Rogoff letter is here.
      The full text of the Rogoff letter is in the Wallace presentation (scroll down to page 12-13).

      It’s four pages long, but I’d summarize it as two interconnected concerns. (1) that there’s a new moving part to be accommodated in their plan, and (2) that it upsets the TOD plan by making the site less marketable.

      1. There’s already a moving part there: without Bellevue’s cooperation there isn’t a marketable proposal for TOD here, and I see no mention of a pre-existing MOU. So (1) is mostly concern trolling. That leaves us with (2) which is basically Nimbyism.

        Given that the need for a newly sited facility for the Homeless exists because of ST’s actions (their condemnation of CFH’s previous facility), it’s deeply troubling that they would fight attempts to fix the problem.

      2. So there is a MOU, substantially amended in 2015 to deal with OMF-E issues. That does contemplate the Bellevue parcel being traded to Sound Transit. There is not, however, a sale agreement or binding agreement to make that trade. So we’re in that unhappy space between a mutual understanding and a contract.

        The understanding was the trade would be for some frontage property along the NE side of the OMF-E. The TOD planning has been pursued based on that thinking. So the Sound Transit argument is “hey we have an MOU which you signed, and we’ve been working forward on implementing that MOU through the design-build contract, and now you’re introducing a new homeless shelter”. (Rogoff puts it more elegantly than me).

        Bellevue’s argument is “yes, we have an MOU, but we don’t have a contract and btw, you only showed us this TOD plan in June after we had already expressed interest in having a shelter here. So we need to work out that contract, and maybe the value exchange we want for our land is space for a shelter”.

        Even the timing on the last piece gets complicated because some Bellevue staff saw the TOD plans under a NDA earlier than June. But different people were working on different tracks here.

      3. Yes, I came away with the same impression and conclusion. It’s very troubling indeed, especially given the timeframe involved here. Setting aside the whole issue of abuse of eminent domain and TOD, there seems to be plenty of time here for ST to work this into their post-construction development plans for the surplus property. (It’s obvious that ST is nervous about meeting it’s 2023 service date commitment, which has already been pushed back by two years from the original plan.) I concur with your #2 assessment.

  3. OK. Let’s start with definition of “Homeless”. Do we mean those of us whose thirty years’ tenancy in Seattle ended with three weeks’ notice? By all the omens, first of a years-long series or repeat episodes?

    Or do we really mean people who need modern medical care for everything from drug addiction to the sickness common to everyone old, poor, and last or farthest outcast of their families?

    Like with “Apodment’s” (Movie was “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) everybody in a neighborhood zoned residential should have world’s most effective treatment for homelessness. Rhymes with Rome. Which should be no problem whatever to put around a transit center.

    Whack at major cause of forced living in cars or Apodments: Transit! One agreement from Kevin, though. Rent- or condo purchase price- should be income-assisted as percent of Kevin’s own net worth. Which should be easy to calculate, since Kevin himself will cut the ribbon as he steps into the elevator and moves in.

    Above all, real Transit Oriented Development should contain our industry’s two greatest weapon against all current social ills. A personnel office. And a union headquarters. And in gratitude for the concept, give Kevin labor’s most rare and coveted award: Seniority Number 1.

    Letting him pick anything he wants, from EastLINK to the Route 7. Incidentally: Not kidding about any of this!

    Mark Dublin

  4. As someone who’s been watching the process closely, the plan presented by CM Wallace is probably the most thoughtful and coordinated plan put forward to date.

    The fact that so many of the “concerned players” in the city and on the Sound Transit board are one in the same, it’s no surprise there is pushback from ST. Sad as it is though, it’s no surprise. Hopefully when all the dust settles, and it becomes clear that this solution is really a win-win for most of the stakeholders involved, ST will ease up and throw their support behind it.

    It’s the least they could do, especially since ST Board Chair Dow Constatine has expressed ST support for working within the needs of the cities it is impacting!

  5. I corrected an error in paragraph 3, but I should expand on the point because it’s cropped up in a few comments here and in the debate in Bellevue.

    Sound Transit acquired the international Paper building for East Link. I misstated that as ‘condemned’ (and I think it’s been reported as a condemnation elsewhere) but it was a voluntary acquisition in 2012. The shelter operated out of that site for three years after it was acquired because Sound Transit made it available in partnership with Bellevue and CfH.

    And then it was displaced for construction. But it wouldn’t have been there were it not for Sound Transit donating the use of the building.

    There are a few talking points that flow from this. One – that the shelter operated in this area without controversy before and therefore should be ok again – is reasonable. One can counter, also reasonably, that the area will be very different in the near future.

    The other overheated talking point one sometimes hears – that Sound Transit kicked the homeless out of the shelter they had – is a selective misreading of the history.

    I don’t believe the past existence of a temporary shelter in Bed-Red affects the merits of a future permanent shelter at that location either way.

  6. Simplistic I grant you, But it appears like a governmental game of tag your it with everyone treating it like a hot potato.

    It has been stated more eloquently already. But the elephant in the room appears to me to be that the current white hot economy is leaving a lot of people behind.

    Interesting that TOD incentives to devlopers are so fragile that this news is a deal breaker.

    Isn’t this kind of shelter a better neighbor than the tent towns that have cropped up in the most unlikely places? Aren’t we as a society expected to be more accommodating?

    Or is the easiest way for us to sleep at night is to assign blame to whom ever ends up holding the potato?

  7. Agreed, Jeff. But just thought of a way Kevin himself can accomplish his plan for the shelter that’s enough of a win all around that nobody’s mind his name on the result.

    Build basic simple apartments that thousands of us displaced locals would give anything to live in, and charge same rent we used to pay comfortably before we got forced out. Rent we’ll gladly pay with money earned by the excellent wages that Kevin will negotiate with our unions.

    One benefit of many: None of our cars will end up parked on the street because location of our residence will mean we neither own one nor want to. Floor’s yours, Kevin.


  8. Fwiw, Sound Transit paid $23,000,000 (plus $125,000 in closing costs and administrative fees for the property back in 2013.

    The 2013 King County tax rolls had the property assessed at $13,720,000 prior to the ownership change. Thus, ST paid a sizeable premium for the property for which they had already received FTA approval under the early ROW acquisition guidelines.

  9. I don’t think more homeless shelters are the answer. (Looking at the current situation and at historical outcomes) It would probably be cost effective (and have better results) to put these homeless men to work building light rail and laying track. Too bad it’s such a “novel idea.” Why doesn’t ST put this on tbe table, “no homeless shelter but we’ll employ those folks, and the need for a homeless shelter will cease.”

    1. 1) For many homeless people, the problem is more than just lack of income.

      2) Building light rail requires skilled labor. Given our current construction boom, I doubt you’ll find many skilled construction workers among our homeless population.

  10. This article has so many inaccuracies and was poorly researched, or most likely, not researched at all. Putting inaccuracies out there only hurts this process. Please check facts before you send them out.

    1. If you are David Bowling (Congregations for the Homeless (CFH) Executive Director stakeholder and beneficiary of the permanent homeless shelter)… your comment is vague and not constructive. Please point out the inaccuracies, missing research and facts left out. In your position, you are probably one of the most informed about the progress of this project.

      1. Hello,

        This is David Bowling. I have made a significant mistake. Let me explain and say that I am sorry for my mistake and any negative impact it may have had. This article is well written and well researched from what I can see. I was sent links to two different articles or the last day regarding the permanent shelter, and I thought they were the same article. I have since found out they are not. I commented on this article thinking it was the other article. I apologize for this, and I sincerely apologize for my mistake in inaccurately stating this article was not well written. Thank you for writing a great piece on the permanent shelter.

      2. Thank you for the clarification David and also working to meet the needs of the homeless population in the area. I take your comment as a positive endorsement from CFH for Kevin Wallace’s OMFE proposal.

        Also, Dan, thank you for the great article.

  11. Sound Transit recently dispersed a dozen or so RV Campers in the Bel-Red corridor. It seems ST is more effective at cleaning out an encampment than any other of our government entities. Did they provide an alternative? Were they concerned about where these people would go? Or was it just — get out of the way of my progress?

    Suggest the shelter have parking and full hookups for those same dozen displaced campers.

    Maybe if the light rail had gone straight up 112th per Kevin’s original plan (rather than tunnel through Bellevue for no reason whatsoever) we could have funded the shelter for many, many decades to come.

  12. Thank you for the well-researched, well-written article Dan. I have been following this hot issue for a while and it’s definitely something that the Bellevue voters need to look into for this upcoming election.

    A shelter WILL be built for the East side but we need to build it on Bellevue land (OMFE) and not on county land. We need to build it near hospitals, transportation, Police services, Job centers and not schools, parks and residential neighborhoods.

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