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May 29, 2008

A new urban neighborhood to spring forth in Bellevue

  • The 3 million-square-foot Spring District will have the elements of an urban center, but with mid-height buildings.
  • By MARTIN REGGE and MICHAEL CANNON
    NBBJ

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    Regge

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    Cannon

    Transit-oriented development is in the forefront of today’s design dialogue as rising gas prices are encouraging alternative transportation and neighborhoods are struggling to regain a sense of place. Today’s urbanites are reaching out for alternative designs that allow them to live outside the city’s urban core while maintaining access to amenities such as public transportation, economic diversity, green space, retail, and community connection.

    A new urban form has been emerging from these changing economic conditions. It includes all the elements of an urban center, but with scaled-down, mid-height buildings that create a pedestrian-scale feel and provide transitions between high-density urban and low-density residential areas.

    These new urban districts are emerging outside central business districts across the United States, and are often located in light-industrial areas that are being phased out due to changing market pressures, providing fertile ground for redevelopment. As a result, these middle zones become ideal sites with great potential for thoughtful urban design.

    The Spring District

    Image courtesy of NBBJ
    Spring District street designs were inspired by the grid pattern, hierarchy and pedestrian scale found in Portland’s Pearl District.

    Locally, one only needs to look to the Bel-Red Corridor to see an example of this type of district emerging.

    Located between Bellevue’s rapidly growing downtown to the west and technology-driven residential neighborhoods to the east, the Spring District is an example of a new neighborhood designed to connect urban and residential.

    Being developed by Wright Runstad & Co. in partnership with Shorenstein Properties and designed/master planned by NBBJ, the 36-acre infill project is the largest in the Bel-Red Corridor and is located on the former Safeway distribution center site. The project will provide more than 3 million square feet of office, residential and retail, distributed over more than 14 buildings and a dozen city blocks.

    Not unlike the emergence of the Pearl District in Portland, this district has the seeds of becoming a truly integrated community of mixed-uses and providing economic diversity.

    Transit

    One of the project’s key components is the high-capacity-transit line planned for the Bel-Red Corridor. Although voters rejected a major initiative last fall that would fund the East Link light rail, plans are under way to help alleviate vehicular congestion in the state Route 520 corridor. While the details are still being debated as to the rail’s alignment, this needed infrastructure will ultimately provide considerable access to regional jobs and housing — and link Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond.

    A transit station is planned for the center of the Spring District, enabling the neighborhood to capitalize on compact development, create a center for business and urban living, and enhance its opportunity to serve the region.

    Transit-oriented development can create a successful hub of pedestrian activity, given a well-designed urban streetscape activated by ground floor retail and other mixed-uses. The goal in creating a walkable community for the Spring District focused on providing pedestrian-scaled blocks, pleasant “green” streets, a network of parks and plazas, ground floor retail and transit.

    Building orientation

    Many of the buildings will take advantage of the primary diagonal views to the southwest towards downtown Bellevue. In addition, building heights are staggered throughout the plan to frame views of the surrounding skyline. Views to the east will reveal the expanse of the Cascade mountain range.

    Block sizes

    The plan uses smaller block sizes than those typically found in downtown Bellevue, which results in more public open space on the street level. North-south streets are positioned to allow an existing cold-storage building to remain during the early phases. Mid-block pedestrian ways encourage limited vehicle use, based on a European model of safely mixing cars and people.

    Streets

    Streets, one of the most important elements of the public realm design, not only handle cars and people, but convey the life of the area — the utilities, energy and communications linking the project to the broader community. The streets in the Spring District found inspiration in Portland’s grid pattern, hierarchy and pedestrian scale. Specific streets are planned to be active commercial streets and others are intended to function as passive, quiet streets.

    Parks and open space

    The plan began with a central open space playing a major role in the neighborhood, knowing that the project’s location needed to have a special public place to help establish the district’s identity. The crescent shape of the central park provides some flexibility for future street connections while it creates an intimate public space for the neighborhood. To encourage a healthy community, space will be provided for active sports, including a modestly scaled soccer field.

    Sustainable design

    The Spring District is an ideal LEED-ND candidate (LEED for Neighborhood Development). The project’s infill location, proximity to transit, compact development, street pattern, mixed-use and overall accessibility are all positive place-making components valued by LEED-ND criteria. Additional features to meet LEED-ND requirements are anticipated, such as well-designed green buildings, best wastewater management practices, habitat restoration and reduced water use.

    Specifically planned sustainable features include:

    • Energy-efficient buildings

    • Storm water runoff capture and treatment

    • Native vegetation and habitat restoration for parks and open spaces

    • Shared office and residential structured parking

    • Walkable “green” streets with pedestrian amenities

    • Green roofs on many of the buildings

    • A centrally located transit station

    Energy efficiency will be an important goal for the project. The design team will be analyzing options for future energy reduction measures and green technology as the project moves forward. A broader, and perhaps more challenging, goal includes establishing a district heating and cooling system, ideal for a project of this scale.

    The project’s master plan is nearly complete and NBBJ is working on the design for phase one, with ground breaking expected in two to three years.


    Martin Regge is a principal with NBBJ. He leads the firm’s Urban Planning and Urban Design practice serving commercial, corporate, civic, and science/education markets. Michael Cannon, ASLA, is a senior associate with NBBJ. He leads urban design, planning and landscape architecture teams within the firm in the civic and corporate markets.



     


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