Old suburban ramblers in Bellevue are giving way to new luxury homes as increasingly affluent young professionals seek close-in locations and good schools.
On a rainy morning on the northwest edge of Bellevue, a backhoe chews up a 1950s rambler in room-sized chunks. Over the next three hours, the carport that had been converted to a third bedroom, the large picture window overlooking the quiet residential street, even the updated kitchen with granite countertops, break apart into splinters and bursts of drywall dust. In its place on the large wooded lot, a builder plans a new luxury home more than three times the size of the rambler, with a sale price of more than $2 million.
Builders and city officials in Bellevue say the trend of tearing down modest, midcentury houses and replacing them with larger, more expensive ones has accelerated over the past two years, as the economy has rebounded and increasingly affluent professionals seek neighborhoods close to city centers with good schools and shorter commutes.
But the gradual makeover of entire suburban blocks where a generation of baby boomers came of age alarms some longtime residents. They, and some new arrivals, worry about the changing character of their neighborhoods, rising property values, and the area’s affordability for a new generation of young families.
“I hardly recognize it anymore,” said Penny Gates, 88, who with her husband moved into a College Hills rambler in 1975 when, she said, the busy arterial in front of the house “was a nice country road.”
Now, from her front deck, she can see the raw two-by-four frames going up on six houses whose sale price, according to the builder’s website, will start in the $900,000s. Behind her is a 15-house development built two years ago on 5 acres where two low-profile houses had stood. Down the hill, another 3-acre parcel, currently leased to a towing company, is for sale for almost $4 million.
“I don’t know if I can keep this house with all the million-dollar houses going up around me. My taxes are going to go out of sight,” Gates said.
In Bellevue, almost half of all single-family construction in 2012 and 2013 involved teardowns of existing homes. Most of that activity was concentrated near downtown, in West Bellevue and Northwest Bellevue, areas west of Interstate 405 and between Interstates 90 and 520. In those two neighborhoods, 118 new-home projects were demolitions and rebuilds, while just 16 were new houses on vacant land.
On Mercer Island last year, 58 of 59 new housing construction permits were for demolitions and rebuilds, according to that city’s development-services department. Although the numbers are striking, officials in both cities note that most new residential construction is apartments and condominiums in their downtowns. Both suburbs were largely built out by the 1970s, and little undeveloped land remains.
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