Bellevue beefs up permit staff to brace for building boom
Bellevue hires building reviewers and inspectors to handle a new wave of downtown and Bel-Red construction.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Bellevue, responding to a renewed building boom, is hiring more permitting officials to keep up with the demand.
High-rise construction is again under way downtown, and additional developers are seeking building permits for large projects.
The city’s Development Services Department is in the midst of hiring 24 additional employees, bringing the total workforce close to 100, about the level during the peak of the last boom in 2008.
The City Council in August authorized the new positions, which are funded through fees paid by developers.
So far, the biggest projects to break ground are apartments and hotels: the two-building Soma Towers apartments and a 376-room Marriott Hotel two blocks away.
Apartment projects on the corner of Main Street and Bellevue Way Southeast — one already being built, one in permit review — will bring more than 600 units.
“More cranes will begin to sprout over downtown Bellevue next year,” said Development Services Director Mike Brennan, adding that it isn’t yet clear if there will be as much activity as in the last construction cycle, when as many as 21 cranes were operating.
The largest downtown projects currently in the permitting process are Kemper Development’s two dual high-rise mixed-use proposals, one at Lincoln Square and the other at nearby Bellevue Square. The Lincoln Square expansion, further along in city review, would bring 2 million square feet of retail, office, hotel and residential uses.
In the Bel-Red Corridor east of downtown, Wright Runstad began demolition and utility work in September at a former Safeway distribution center to make way for the Spring District, an urban village that ultimately could bring 13,000 workers and 2,000 residents. The first two buildings are expected to house apartments and offices.
The biggest question is when office developers will land the tenants and financing needed to move ahead with their plans, Brennan said.
For large tenants, office space in Bellevue has become tight. “We’ve got small spaces scattered around in scattered buildings, but large floor space is becoming scarce,” Brennan said.
Beyond the uncertain and cyclical office and residential markets, Brennan said, “There’s one major public project coming our way, and that will start construction in 2015 — they’ll be coming in [for permits] next month or the month after — and that’s East Link.”
East Link, Sound Transit’s future Seattle-to-Redmond light-rail line with stations in downtown and Bel-Red, is another reason the city is hiring inspectors, reviewers and other development staffers.
Voters five years ago ratified tax revenues for the $2.8 billion project, and the city has approved the route for the light-rail extension, which is scheduled to begin operating in 2023.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org