Outdoor steps lead to the base of Bellevue City Hall
Bellevue City Hall (Photo by author)

With a unanimous vote to close out last night’s meeting, Bellevue City Council officially approved the upcoming years-long outreach process for the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update. Although the evening also featured some interesting discussions around noise ordinances and economic development (and I encourage you to read the play-by-play if you’re interested in those types of things), I’d like to particularly focus on this this city council vote, because this outreach process lays fundamental groundwork for how Bellevue will grow and develop over the coming decades.

A quick intro to Comp Plans

Put simply, a Comprehensive Plan (a.k.a. Comp Plan) is effectively a handbook that contains a city’s goals, visions, and policies around growth and development. A product of the Growth Management Act (GMA) of the early 1990s, Comp Plans are intended to minimize the negative impacts of growth, such as environmental degradation, urban sprawl, and housing unaffordability. As a high-level planning document, a Comp Plan is the North Star around which all other city policy is aligned. For example, if a city’s Comp Plan includes a vision of preserving the character of single-family neighborhoods, that vision leads to concrete city policies, decisions, and challenges down the line, such as:

  • opposing a bill that would allow missing middle housing in all areas of the city;
  • slow-walking work to allow backyard cottages in single-family neighborhoods; or
  • a mismatch between expected housing growth and the ability for current zoning to absorb that growth.
Officially, it is Bellevue’s Comprehensive Plan that mandates over 75% of the city’s land area to be single-family zoning. Rezones of parcels like East Main, Wilburton, and private developments are actually, formally speaking, amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. (Credit: City of Bellevue)

Important too is the impact that a Comprehensive Plan has over multiple decades. When the current Comp Plan Update is ratified by the city council two years from now, it will paint a vision for how Bellevue is supposed to look in 2044. And although minor code amendments get made every year, this upcoming process will be the biggest opportunity for residents to have an impact on Bellevue’s urban future for the next eight years, when the City will begin this process anew.

Many ways to get involved in Bellevue

Monday’s vote from City Council didn’t actually do much except direct staff to initiate the outreach process with the wider community. But staff’s presentation did give insight into ways the City will look to connect with community members. Through a statistically-valid survey, Zoom meetings with interested residents, stakeholder groups, and in-person outreach (like tabling and door-knocking), staff aim to engage people of all backgrounds and cultural groups.

Of particular interest to staff is elevating the voices of people who have historically not been involved in crafting city policy. This doesn’t just include Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities and organizations, but also other demographics not often represented in local decisions: young people, students, renters, and commuters. During last night’s discussion, progressive councilmembers in particular highlighted the need for staff to include the many people who might want to live in Bellevue, but can’t, in their outreach. Given the city’s uniquely exorbitant housing costs, they noted the importance of including perspectives from those who have been priced out of the city and centering their needs in policy-making.

Staff’s estimated timeline for Comp Plan outreach. The next two months will be critical for community to voice their feedback, because the perspectives and visions shared by participants will shape the proposals that staff return with for feedback later in the process. (Credit: City of Bellevue)

So if you work, live, or want to live in Bellevue, you can get involved in the process by taking these actions:

Even if Bellevue’s not your home or workplace, your own city is likely also undergoing this process right now. Getting involved early and often is the best way to make your voice heard and advocate for better urban policy in your neighborhood.

Article Author

Chris is a UW Environmental Sciences graduate who moved to Bellevue in 2015. When he's not busy being an urbanist fox on the internet, he's working on the Eastside to support efforts reducing greenhouse gas emissions and going to city council meetings to denounce the hegemony of automobile infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter at @Deutski1.