Like the land use codes of many American cities, Bellevue’s is one filled with archaic policies interspersed with technical language and legislative jargon. First and foremost, it is simply a guide, a rulebook to govern land use, zoning, and development in the City, and not a visionary goal-setter like its parent, the Comprehensive Plan. However, understanding the Land Use Code gives us better insight into how overall Comp Plan goals are achieved, through specific planning means and methods.
The Code is long and overbearingly legalistic, so I won’t cover it in great length. I do, however, want to examine two geographic sub-areas contextually through the lens of the Land Use Code– Factoria and Crossroads, both similar in form and function, but different in identity and legislation. Before I get there, it’s important to break down how the Code is structured. That, in essence, will help us understand how zoning and land use policies are treated geographically, the paradigm in which we need to view our analysis of these two subareas.
Bellevue has a number of zoning designations, which it effectively labels Land Use Districts (LUD), a term I’m wary of because of the implication that the designations refer to specific and unique geographies, which is not the case. In fact, the majority of the LUDs are generic designations (i.e., Single Family Residential, Office District, General Commercial, etc.) while a few others refer to specific subareas, like Downtown, Factoria, and Bel-Red.
The Code stipulates, in detail, specific land uses that are permissible or conditional to each LUD. These uses range from building of accessory dwelling units to manufacturing of textile products, a fairly comprehensive but admittedly non-exhaustive spectrum. In the following chapter, General Development Requirements, provisions for physical development restrictions are made, including floor area ratio (FAR), lot size, building setbacks, and parking minimums.
The LUD designations establish a generic baseline for zoning across the whole city, which then allows for a more comprehensive focus on specific subareas, called Special and Overlay Districts. As the name implies, overlay districts provide an additional set of standards for a geographic area on top of the existing LUD regulations, as stated above. These may contain district-specific stipulations, like further development restrictions and design guidelines. For example, the Downtown Overlay District has a FAR Amenity Incentive System (PDF) where developers within a specific LUD may exceed basic FARs if certain amenities are provided, like pedestrian-oriented frontage, awnings, etc.
When examining the Land Use Code in the context of specific geographic areas, it’s important to take into account what type of legislative designations apply, specifically Land Use District or Overlay District. This will be important as I analyze and compare Factoria and Crossroads in more detail, and how the Land Use Code affects the development and growth within both.