Taller buildings have come to South Lake Union and the University District, but soon they may be going up in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District, as is the debate on balancing the need for new development with the desire to preserve a neighborhood's character.
The City Planning Committee met Tuesday morning to discuss the upzoning plans, which they hope to approve in June for a City Council vote before July 4. The current plan now is to allow residential buildings to stand up to 150 feet instead of 65 feet.
Many in Little Saigon say they’re not entirely opposed to development, because they want more affordable housing in the area. The concern is when it comes to changing the community’s cultural identity.
“Yes, we support the upzone, because we want affordable housing. But we don't want to change the characteristic of our community. We don't want to change our identity in our community,” business owner Tam Nguyen said. “The culture is about the people. The culture is about the business. The culture is about relationships that we develop in our community here.”
Nguyen co-owns Tamarind Tree restaurant located in Little Saigon’s Asian Plaza. The strip mall is slated to become an eight-story building with apartments, a hotel, shops and restaurants.
Nguyen does not know if he can afford to move his businesses into the new building.
“It’s important to recognize the history of the CID as a unique, diverse, multicultural community in Seattle. Some who have called the ID for many generations, over 130 years since being displaced from the original Chinatown in Pioneer Square,” a member of the City Planning Committee said during the meeting.
The City says the historic part of Chinatown will not see any zoning changes. However, for the rest of the area, residential buildings could be built up to about 10 stories too.
City Councilman Bruce Harrell described the upzone plans as “modest” but wondered why a zoning change in 2011 did not spur more development in the International District.
Some residents see upzoning as an opportunity for more affordable housing.
“There’s just a shortage. Without action soon, there’s really going to be nothing left for the community to have,” Brian Chu with the Yesler Community Collaborative said.
While others view it as an opportunity for developers.