Puget Sound Business Journal
When Bellevue updated its land-use code about two years ago, the goals were to improve livability and the pedestrian environment while creating a more distinctive skyline. The changes were subtle but meaningful for developers who now can build higher in exchange for pedestrian-oriented open spaces and more slender towers. the changes affect mostly the central business district, where taller, if not always denser, buildings now are allowed.
There’s been a paradigm shift in how owners and their architects think about opportunities in this now burgeoning city. The new code promotes buildings up to 600 feet tall, wider sidewalks, through-block pedestrian connections, minimum tower-spacing requirements for better view-corridors, and pedestrian-oriented streetscapes and parks and plazas.
Already a flurry of projects are in the pipeline with developers eager to deliver more dynamic projects they expect will command higher rents with unobstructed views.
Vulcan Real Estate is planning a 600-foot-tall office and retail project, which is on track to be Bellevue’s first such tower with a 2023 delivery date possible. Next up is Vancouver, British Columbia-based Onni Group’s plan of three 600-foot towers with office, residential, and hotel uses. And Amazon recently unveiled plans for two narrow high-rise office towers along the north side of the Transit Center.
For centuries architects and their clients have striven to enhance urban centers. A recent article in Arch20 claimed five positive outcomes of this: better functionality, aesthetics and social interaction, the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and reduction of inequality.
These principles of urban space-making were at the core of two notable MZA Architecture projects in downtown Bellevue whose design changed considerably once the city engaged its code requirements. The Cloudvue project, formerly called ELEV8, is proposed to be the largest high-rise project in Bellevue to date. Under the new code mid-block pedestrian pathways were added to neighboring developments and a public plaza to contribute to a more walkable downtown.
Another project design that changes considerably in response to the new code is Create World Real Estate’s Mira II, a high-rise condominium tower slated to break ground this summer. It will have a retail podium, an outdoor plaza, and sky lounge with a rooftop deck. Working with city planner,s we were able to take advantage of the increased height by moving a previously designed ground level plaza outward – to the street edge – to increase pedestrian access. The design changes make these developed open space more visible to passerby, thus increasing foot traffic and enhancing safety with a greater frequency of use by the public.
Public policy that enhances a city’s open space can be a formidable tool for engaging workers, shoppers, and visitors while increasing the return on investment for owners. Bellevue is a shining example of how smart urban planning can incentivize architects and their clients to design better, more interactive pedestrian-friendly projects that improve the urban experience for generations to come.
*this text includes corrections published in the Feb. 27, 2020 edition of the PSBJ
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