Imagining Bellevue's Tomorrow
Emma Sullivan, April 25, 2018
Yesterday morning, at the April BDA Breakfast, we were joined by Bellevue Mayor John Chelminiak and Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson who shared insights into the strategic plans for Bellevue's future.
The Breakfast was divided into two segments - a State of the City address by the Mayor and a follow-up Q&A period with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.
Mayor's Presentation on the State of the City
The Mayor highlighted some of the existing and upcoming place making projects that will shape the future of Bellevue:
- The ongoing East Link (light rail) project that will connect Downtown Bellevue and the Spring District to Downtown Seattle
- The development of our parks - the completed Inspiration Playground and Bellevue Downtown Park, and the upcoming completion of Meydenbauer Bay Park
- The GIX Exchange - a collaboration of two great universities, the University of Washington and Tsinghua University
Mayor Chelminiak acknowledged the work of key business minds and organizations in shaping Bellevue into the business-friendly place it has become today. Longtime Bellevue companies like PACCAR and Kemper Development Company have paved the way for new investment.
The Downtown population is changing. Since 2000, the average age for Downtown residents decreased from 57 to 34. The average household size 1.4 people per unite to 1.7 people per unit. This is very much a change in the way people use multifamily housing. In Chelminiak's mind, the goal is "attainable" housing at all levels - first apartment, first house, and more.
Some of the challenges the Mayor identified:
- Affordable housing - Housing has moved from a social issue to a core economic competitiveness issue. Since Bellevue has been built on economic competitiveness, this is not something that should be taken lightly.
- Traffic congestion - We have to get smart about it. The City is currently working on Bellevue Smart Mobility Plan, an update on the 2004 plan, is a way of being more predictive and managing traffic better. This also involves Vision Zero (no accidents). The goal is to work smarter
- Diversity - the transforming community is actually an opportunity. It is our strength. We want to become a place that welcomes the world, and that invites global investment.
The Mayor concluded with an invitation to "partner with us" whether formally or informally and a "thank you" to those who were founders in Bellevue and also to everyone who makes Bellevue better as we move into the second quarter of the 21st century.
Q&A with Mayor John Chelminiak and Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson
The Q&A portion was moderated by Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA) President Patrick Bannon.
As you talk about the City's priorities, how would you best represent the Council's vision as to Bellevue's tomorrow?
Chelminiak: A lot of it is looking at our planning for the future - the commercial and business interests, but also making sure our neighborhoods have what they need to live comfortable lives.
In consideration of the Affordable Housing Strategy, how will Bellevue take concrete steps to bring new housing options to the marketplace?
Robinson: Traffic and affordable housing go hand in hand and Bellevue definitely has an affordable housing need. 30% of our households are cost-burdened (spending more than 30% of annual income on housing expenses). There are two main ways to solve this. Incentives - how do you incentivize developers to build more low-income housing? These incentives could look like multifamily property tax exemption, density bonuses, and more. The second part is creating a budget that will allow us to create and maintain affordable housing - we should double the current amount allocated towards affordable housing and this would go a long way in achieving our goals.
As a member-organization, the BDA is very concerned about the business environment. As we look at the opportunities in front of us, what can the Council do tangibly in the near term to offer up an attractive business climate?
Chelminiak: An economic climate that allows for development. We shouldn't penalize businesses for investing in Downtown Bellevue. We need high-quality maintenance of facilities that do exist, and we need to continue to match our growth in creating new facilities.
We know that the economy extends to federal and state issues. What key issues are front and center when looking at state and federal partnerships in terms of tending to Bellevue's needs?
Chelminiak: We did very well in the last election. Funding was moved up and allocated for Mountain-to-Sound Green Lake trail and for Meydenbauer Bay Beach Park. Our overall approach, though, is to show that if you put federal and state money into the City of Bellevue you will see a return on your investment because you will see greater tax revenue coming back to you - more than $700 million in tax revenue to the State of Washington from Bellevue residents and businesses in 2017.
Robinson: A great example was the $100 million low-interest loan the City got for the infrastructure on the Bel-Red area. This investment in the community will turn around and bring back more revenues.
In the recent business surveys the City has conducted, we have seen that a lot of the issues brought up are related to growth. How are you best responding to opportunities and challenges related to growth and how can we best partner with you to navigate this transformation?
Robinson: I think there's always a tradeoff with growth with increased opportunity and trying to maintain affordability. We need to make sure the very businesses that make Bellevue a great place to be are not priced out of our economy. At the same time, for a city that has grown a lot, we still have a lot of room to grow. Downtown is only 60% built out and we are just starting development in Bel-Red. We still have development opportunities in Wilburton, Eastgate, and Factoria to develop. Planning for growth, and distributing growth through these growth areas, providing opportunities for multi-modal transportation to connect all these areas, and maintaining affordability, is key. We do also need to make continued investments in public safety.
How is the City doing on regional connections and collaborations? Is the political climate moving forward in a positive or negative direction?
Chelminiak: I think we are doing much better in the region than we have in a while. Bellevue is respected in the region - we are being more cognizant of how we act in the region and how we are perceived.
As you look at your checklist of things you want to get done, what two things are you most interested in and excited to accomplish in the next two years during your time on Council?
Robinson: First of all, I wanted to acknowledge that we have a diverse range of Council Members who cover many industries, and we have a very competent and effective City Manager in Brad Miyake. I am confident that this team can achieve all of our objectives. Fully implementing our affordable housing and guiding our growth so that our transportation, economic, and livability goals are met.
Chelminiak: I am really very excited to complete the Grand Connection and also for getting Downtown Livability implemented. A core commitment for me has also been parks - making good on our parks levy is incredibly important.
In regards to Bellevue's fiscal future, there is very strong potential for expenditures to start to outpace revenues in the 2021 time frame. What is Bellevue's plan to address this potential shortfall?
Chelminiak: There are certain external sources to look at, but we also have to look internally - where are we putting our money? What are our priorities?
We thank the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for their leadership and for their commitment to making our city an incredible place to be.