The Bel-Red corridor linking Bellevue and Redmond has long been a kind of no-man's land, mostly a mix of retail, office parks, strip malls, auto dealers, greenery and charmless warehouses. Tucked between two Eastside economic powerhouses, it features utilitarian spillover businesses with romantic names like Discount Tire Outlet.
Bel-Red is slated for huge change, however. A long-in-the-works rezone was able to draw Sound Transit's $2.8 billion East Link light rail expansion through the heart of the corridor — the zoning was designed to emphasize transit-oriented development before the route was even decided. The rail route and Bel-Red plan dovetail nicely. The 14-mile route will start in downtown Seattle, cross the I-90 floating bridge, hook north through downtown Bellevue, then zip along the Bel-Red corridor to Overlake and the main Microsoft campus in Redmond. Trains are scheduled to roll by 2023.
The corridor plan seeks to remake a suburban pattern into an urban one. Matt Terry, the former longtime planning and development director for the city of Bellevue, now retired, describes it as "radically different" from the current layout. It will be denser, walkable, more sustainable. It'll feature mixed-use, offices and much more housing. It'll be taller than traditional sprawl, but with shorter high-rises than downtown, and a new grid will begin to tie it together on a more human scale. This is where Bellevue wants much of its projected growth absorption under the Growth Management Act to go.
The time frame suggests stately progress in an area seeing rapid change, but it's a huge project. Will it be transformative? Quite possibly. Rail and a new arterial running the length of the corridor (along NE 15th) will provide better connections with downtown Bellevue, helping to extend urban-style development eastward. Still, the Bel-Red corridor as it is today is mostly classic sprawl, with a long way to go from 'burb to urb'.
The potential, even without rail, is enormous. A rapidly densifying, diversifying workforce needs more room and more options, especially so close to Microsoft which has many employees at both ends of the Bel-Red. Ultimately, the corridor forecast is for 5,000 more housing units by 2030. "I'm convinced people want to live in that corridor," predicts Terry. "The housing market will be very strong."