An anti-sprawl group has filed a legal challenge to Bellevue's growth plan, saying that the city is violating the state Growth Management...

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An anti-sprawl group has filed a legal challenge to Bellevue’s growth plan, saying that the city is violating the state Growth Management Act by allowing fewer than four homes per acre in some residential neighborhoods.

Frustrated city leaders said Monday night they will fight the challenge, filed last week with the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board. They said the city is not only meeting but exceeding its growth requirements and the state law does not specifically call for a minimum of four homes on every acre.

The legal challenge came from the watchdog group Futurewise — formerly known as 1000 Friends of Washington.

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“These people may have 1,000 friends but we have 107,000 friends — they’re called our constituents, and they’ve entrusted us to meet our growth goals,” Councilman Don Davidson said. “I’m just not willing to bow to unelected groups who coerce us to do zoning that would hurt many of our single-family neighborhoods.”

Aaron Ostrom, executive director of Futurewise, said that, overall, Bellevue is doing an excellent job planning for growth but that the city should be offering more single-family housing options. While the state growth law doesn’t demand a minimum density of four homes per acre, that number has emerged as part of the act’s interpretation, Ostrom said.

“It’s definitely not a pick-on-Bellevue thing,” Ostrom said, pointing out that his group had only 60 days to file a challenge. “We wanted to keep the option open, but we’re still working to try to find a deal here. If we can reach an agreement, we’ll just drop it.”

He said Futurewise, which has no formal authority over city plans, also challenged Kent’s comprehensive plan but ended up working out changes with that city. He said the group has been following other cities’ updates and encouraging planners to take an aggressive approach with density.

The Bellevue challenge, filed in response to last year’s update of the city’s comprehensive plan, could potentially cause problems for the city. If certain elements of the city’s comprehensive plan aren’t certified by the Puget Sound Regional Council, the region’s umbrella planning organization, Bellevue’s ability to compete for state and federal transportation dollars could be affected, said Goran Sparrman, transportation director.

According to the city, 4,580 acres out of the city’s total of 20,160 are zoned as less than 3.5 units per acre. But after removing public parks and equestrian areas, only 230 low-density acres remain. Some of those acres are vacant, some have residential development already, and some are environmentally sensitive, city planners said Monday.

Bellevue’s average housing density, excluding downtown’s ultra-dense high-rises, is 4.7 units per acre, according to the city.

After months of talks with Futurewise, the city proposed to find space for an additional 516 residential units by 2012 — the equivalent of what planners say would be gained if the 230 acres were rezoned to four units per acre. Futurewise rejected the offer.

Now the city plans to contest the appeal and to seek a legislative amendment to the state’s growth act that would clarify the term “urban density” and not promote four units per acre as a rigorous standard.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com