No fewer than half a dozen car dealerships are currently located within a quarter-mile walkshed of Wilburton Station. (The Urbanist)

To prepare for the 2 Line’s opening, The Urbanist researched and published on the transit-oriented development (TOD) occurring around the new light rail stations. We documented millions of square feet of office development and tens of thousands of homes that have been built or in the works in Downtown Bellevue, Spring District, BelRed, Overlake, and Redmond Technology Station areas. Notably absent from our coverage are the East Main, South Bellevue, and Wilburton Stations.

The development around those stations either didn’t warrant their own update article or they simply had nothing notable built or in permitting. One of these stations has two big projects in permitting, sits on the edge of downtown, and has single family zoning right next to it. Another has an excuse and lots of promise. And the last one is hoping the other stations will distract us and has absolutely nothing going on.

Wilburton: the makings of a future urban core

No significant development is underway in Wilburton because the planning of a major urban future for the neighborhood will only be realized with the implementation of Bellevue’s Comprehensive Plan Update. That’s likely to happen sometime in 2024 or 2025. Wrapped up in the update is the Wilburton Vision, a years-long effort to plan the future of the Wilburton station area. What’s emerged is a commitment to changing the area’s low-rise commercial character to a dense mixed-use high-rise neighborhood that steps down with the station area.

As Wilburton is built out, it could gradually knit downtown Bellevue and BelRed into a continuous urban corridor. The proposed zoning — which could top out as high as 30 stories — would allow for Wilburton to eventually join the ranks of the many large high-rise projects happening the next stop over in Downtown Bellevue. The major upzone paired with light rail access, close proximity to the Eastside’s tech cluster, and ripe large underutilized sites means the area could induce the kind of megaprojects seen in leading Eastside neighborhoods.

These coming projects will dovetail nicely with the major transportation investments in Wilburton, which extend beyond light rail to major bike and pedestrian infrastructure coming with Eastrail and the Grand Connection I-405 crossing.

Hemmed in by zoning, East Main hinges on a megaproject or two

Our complete map of the development around the 2 Line shows two additional projects by the East Main Station. We’ve covered the larger of projects — a massive redevelopment of the Hilton and Red Lion hotels and parking lots dubbed East Main Village — with its own feature story and an update in the 2022 Downtown Bellevue development series. The project which hasn’t seen much new permitting activity since 2022, was last reported as a complex with seven towers and four midrise buildings. Expect these numbers to shift, but the project was last planned to clock in at around 1,700 residences, nearly two million square feet of office space, a 160-room hotel, 340,000 square feet of retail space, and around 3,900 parking stalls.

East Main Village (MZA Architecture)

Since 2022, another large high-rise project has joined East Main Village with the Bellevue Club Residences. In April, the project applied to enter the design review process. The expansion of the Bellevue Club would add 262 luxury residential units, around 1,150 parking stalls, and 87,000 square feet of high-end amenity spaces in the form of two 22-story high rises.

In 2022, a proposal emerged for a 4.2 million square foot development taking the place of two sprawling hotels in East Main. The project has yet to be finalized and break ground. (Credit: Wig Properties)

Outside of these larger projects and downtown developments north of the station, the station area is largely a single family neighborhood. The city has no plans to overhaul the single family areas of the neighborhood, and the close presence of I-405 interrupts the walkshed to the east. It’s still a Lexus dealership on the opposite side of I-405, but being just a seven-minute walk from East Main Station could make the site a huge redevelopment opportunity — although selling luxury cars in Bellevue could be a rather profitable business to walk away from.

Bellevue High School is a 20-minute walk from East Main Station due to a disjointed street grid. (Google Maps)

Bellevue High School is about a 20-minute walk from East Main Station, but it could easily be a 15-minute walk if the street grid was not so broken and sparse. Large-lot single family homes eat up the space between sprawling, haphazard megablocks that limit walking routes, and one has to ask why, especially now that a light rail station has arrived. It’s easy to imagine mid-rise buildings with plenty of housing for working families and far more frequent pedestrian crossings and a denser street grid tying them into the station and school, instead of a suburban picket-fence maze that squanders light rail access and only provide close access to the highly-ranked high school for a select few.

South Bellevue is frozen in amber

Similar to East Main, South Bellevue Station is hemmed in single family zoning. Citywide (state-mandated) zoning changes could lead to sixplex development in the area, but Bellevue’s otherwise fairly ambitious Comprehensive Plan Update is not proposing a shift to multifamily zoning for these station-adjacent single family areas.

Mercer Slough offers sweeping pastoral views to the east, partially obstructed by the 1500-stall parking garage. (Doug Trumm)

Restrictive zoning takes the entire area west of South Bellevue Station off the table, while the Mercer Slough Park takes the area east of the station off the table. Hence, no TOD projects are in the works near this station. Sound Transit’s addition of a 1500-car parking garage showed that it is technically possible to build large structures in the area. We’ve just built them for cars instead of people.

And land use decisions in the area are not entirely up to Bellevue: To the west of the station is a quaint and development-adverse Beaux Arts Village (one of several micro-suburbs around Bellevue), which puts a further nail in the coffin for those hoping to see something approximating a city when they exit South Bellevue Station.

The art by Vick Scuri along the light rail guideway also functions as a noise wall to lessen the impact on the neighborhood to the west, even if I-405 is much noisier. (Ryan Packer)

State preemption with a TOD bill is the main hope for the station areas at South Bellevue and west of East Main to see any dense transit-oriented development this side of 2040. For the past two years, the state legislature has debated mandating a radius of housing density around the state’s major high capacity transit projects, but come up short on passing a bill. Only a quick implementation deadline from the state appears likely to disrupt the 10-year update cycle that East Main and South Bellevue station areas have just missed. Even then, there’s a lot of problems to solve with the station areas. We wrote about South Bellevue’s challenges back in 2022.

Where to find East Link TOD

So, where’s the urban development coming with the 2 Line online? Around Downtown Bellevue, the Spring District, BelRed, Overlake, at the Microsoft Campus, around a select part of East Main, a few years out at Wilburton, and nowhere to be seen in South Bellevue — at least without state intervention.

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The Urbanist staff occasionally teams up to cover breaking news or tackle large projects. See more about our team on the staff page.