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Originally published Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue's building boom unleashes noise and a little chaos

The price of massive downtown construction is a bit of chaos, but officials say they've received fewer than 20 complaint calls a year.

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

For all the proud bluster about Bellevue's building boom, the 15 major construction projects now under way can make downtown a maddening place.

Road lanes and sidewalks are closed regularly, dump trucks rumble past, and the bang of hammers and buzz of drills ring out all day. The activity is particularly heavy in the north end of downtown, where seven large residential or hotel projects are taking shape, all within a block or two of each other.

"Just a mess, a complete mess," said Ann Reid, 56, who moved 2-½ years ago into the Limestone Apartments along Northeast 10th Street. "... It wouldn't have been my choice [to live here] if I'd known ahead of time."

City officials say they have to weigh the needs of residents and workers seeking quiet and mobility with building contractors who want to finish their projects with as few complications as possible.

"It's a delicate balancing act," said Ron Kessack, who manages the city's street and sidewalk access. "... I think we're balancing things fairly well. Does that make everybody happy? No."

The city receives fewer than 20 calls a year about construction impacts, such as noise and traffic, officials said, and has won awards for how well it has managed the road system around the construction.

Bellevue has long planned to focus growth downtown, although the development — fed by a strong market — is unfolding quickly and on a massive scale. Currently under construction are 1.8 million square feet of office space, 375,000 square feet of retail and 3,200 apartments or condos, city officials said.

Most of the projects are high-rises, as high as 43 stories, with parking garages that burrow far underground. This requires countless dump trucks during excavation and the pouring of massive amounts of concrete and the delivery of piles of steel.

Construction is limited to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and not permitted Sundays, although the city allows exceptions for major events, such as the dismantling of a crane.

Construction vehicles are not allowed to back into a project site because it would stop traffic. Entire streets are seldom closed, and arterials, such as Eighth Street and Bellevue Way, are usually not affected during business hours, Kessack said.

Developers are fairly cooperative, and the city can force repeat offenders to appear before a hearing examiner, officials said. Noise or traffic complaints often stem from an out-of-town trucker or subcontractor disregarding the rules.

Bellevue city leaders say they want the development, and that they're limited in their ability to turn away development proposals that fit the city's growth targets. But the amount of construction is unprecedented in the city's history.

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"I certainly sympathize with [residents'] concerns," said Mayor Grant Degginger. "... I'm hopeful, as some of these projects get done [in the next year], we'll start to get some of these streets and sidewalks back."

Inna Morrison, 37, opened Le Reve Skin Care & Spa on 108th Avenue Northeast 4-½ years ago, and she is now surrounded by construction projects. There's a 150-unit senior housing complex and 202-unit residential tower across the street and a 175-unit apartment tower next door.

The road outside has been limited to one lane recently, and flaggers frequently stop traffic when construction vehicles enter the roadway. The construction noise from the sidewalk is a loud mix of workers' voices, hammers, trucks and other equipment.

"It is hectic," Morrison said, "but what can we do about it?"

The three projects are all scheduled to be finished this year, which could provide some solace. The hundreds of new residents are all potential customers, Morrison said. "We all understand the advantage of it in the end, as a business, so we're coping."

Lisa Hergert, 32, drives to work downtown from her Bellevue home, keeps her car parked during the day and hasn't had any problems.

The construction "is part of a big city," she said. Bellevue is "not as big as Seattle ... but it's growing rapidly."

All of the projects currently under construction are scheduled to wrap up by next year, but 19 other projects are under review or in the pipeline, with thousands of people set to move downtown in the next few years.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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