Next to the rising skyscrapers and Gold Rush intensity of downtown Bellevue, the aging warehouses and office parks around Bellevue-Redmond Road seem sedate, even stagnant.
A hodgepodge of businesses, from an auto-detailing shop to a ballet school, operate quietly out of nondescript buildings. Hundreds of jobs have been lost in the area in recent years as rising land costs pushed some companies to cheaper cities such as Auburn or Kent.
Now, after more than a decade of inactivity in the 900-acre area, city officials are eyeing a new 25-year plan for the Bel-Red Corridor. The plan, which may include more retail, housing and office space, could be the next large-scale redevelopment in the city, outside of downtown. Already, real-estate brokers are salivating and neighbors are fretting about increased traffic, though it is still unclear what the city will do.
But given the area's size and central location, the stakes are high.
"It's really time to look at [the area] more comprehensively," said Kevin O'Neill, one of the lead planners. Bel-Red "needs a fresher look."
The corridor covers most of the area between Highway 520 and Bel-Red Road, Interstate 405 and 148th Avenue Northeast. The west end is mostly industrial, while the east end is dominated by the Overlake retail area.
Altogether, it accounts for more than a quarter of the city's commercial and industrial land. The largest landowner, Safeway, has 75 acres near I-405 but moved its distribution center to Auburn last spring and is selling most of the property. Smaller lots host everything from a Cadman concrete plant to upscale auto dealerships and an Asian shopping center.
Some of the manufacturing businesses may not fit into Bellevue's high-tech future, city officials said. Some landowners also haven't been investing in their properties while they wait for the city to rezone the land for mixed-use development, according to city documents.
Most of the area is zoned as light industrial, but large pockets are set aside for office or commercial use. Almost no land is residential.
With the area's location — near downtown Bellevue and Overlake Hospital to the west and Microsoft to the east — it's no wonder that interest in a redesign is high. A public workshop last month attracted a large number of commercial real-estate agents, and some businesses in the Bel-Red Corridor also seem excited about new ideas for the corridor's future.
Scott Hall is a vice president at Burnstead Construction, which owns a six-acre business park at 120th Avenue and Bel-Red Road. With a rezone, Burnstead could build a multistory, mixed-use development and possibly bring in medical offices linked to the hospital, which may expand nearby.
City growth will have to move somewhere once downtown is built out, Hall said, and the corridor is the next logical spot. A more vibrant neighborhood, with housing and retail, also would help attract tenants. "Businesses like that environment," Hall said. "Employees like that environment."
Housing is the biggest gap in fast-growing Bellevue, with 17,000 new units needed over the next 25 years, according to a city consultant's report. The Bel-Red Corridor would be one of the only places left to build necessary apartments and condominiums, but they should be affordable and in a livable area that includes retail, according to the report.
Mixed-use development could provide housing, retail and office, all in one lot, city officials said.
A redesign of the area is not without problems. Some business leaders have said they worry that small industrial companies could be forced out. But the biggest concern is increased traffic. A denser, more bustling corridor would bring in more drivers.
Even without a redesign, traffic is expected to get so bad in the city over the next 30 years that many companies may not want to move in, according to a city consultant's report.
A better mass-transit system could be the solution, city officials said. Sound Transit eventually wants to build light rail or bus rapid transit through Bellevue to Redmond, and the city's study will identify possible routes in the Bel-Red Corridor.
Choices could include Highway 520 or Bel-Red Road, or even building an entirely new transit corridor, O'Neill said.
Surrounding neighborhoods, such as Wilburton to the south and Bridle Trails to the north, will play a large part in the plan. Community leaders are part of a 16-member steering committee that will help the City Council create a design for the Bel-Red area. Other members include city planning commissioners, business people and two former mayors as co-chairs.
Traffic flow could be improved by increasing access to 520 and opening some street connections in the area, which has several large parcels of land and a lack of roads, O'Neill said.
Norm Hansen, a member of the steering committee and the Bridle Trails Community Club, said his neighborhood successfully opposed a proposed 520 onramp at 130th Avenue several years ago because it would have increased traffic in the residential area.
But he is holding off judgment on the Bel-Red plan because the yearlong process is just beginning. The city could come up with a redesign that brings in more tax revenue but doesn't significantly hurt adjacent neighborhoods, Hansen said. "We're looking for a win-win."
Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or email@example.com
The Bel-Red Corridor
• The Bel-Red Corridor study area has about 3 million square feet of office space.
• Two of the busiest traffic spots are 148th Avenue Northeast near Highway 520, with about 39,000 cars a day, and Bellevue-Redmond Road at 124th Avenue Northeast, with about 29,000 cars a day.
• Businesses include auto-repair shops, mortgage companies, a baseball training center, a Harley-Davidson distribution center and restaurants.
Residents have several ways to become involved in the Bel-Red Corridor planning process. They can send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org; if e-mails are received by Dec. 23, they will be considered part of the planning process for the project's environmental-impact statement.
Residents also can call city planner Kevin O'Neill at 425-452-4064 or Assistant Transportation Director Kris Liljeblad at 425-452-2866.
The 16-member steering committee will be meeting regularly over the next year. The next meeting is 4 p.m. Jan. 5 at Bellevue City Hall, 11511 Main St.
Tentative timeline: City officials are scheduled to consider a high-capacity transit corridor until spring 2006. A preliminary plan for the study area would be chosen in summer and a final plan approved in early 2007.
Source: City of Bellevue, Leland Consulting Group
Bel-Red Corridor Project: www.cityofbellevue.org/page.asp?view=40134