By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The International Special Review District (ISRD) board added two new members via election last month. Andy Yip and Tim Lee were picked to serve on the seven-person board, which oversees development in the International District (ID). The changing landscape of the neighborhood forecasts new construction, which the Board assists in making recommendations to the city.
Lee is a real estate broker and property owner in the ID. He fills the position open to business and property owners of the district. As part of the board, he wants to help maintain the culture and history of the neighborhood while inviting development to the district. Lee hopes to lend a business perspective to the ISRD board.
“I foresee that there are going to be new buildings, but I want to make sure that they are community sensitive,” said Lee of the possibility of new construction. He indicated that the buildings with the core of the ID should be preserved, while areas on the perimeter of the neighborhood could be redeveloped so long as they are within the rules and regulations.
Yip is in real estate development and fills the at-large member position for the ISRD board.
“The current board makeup has a lot of younger folks and I like the energy,” said Yip. “I believe I have a cultural connection with the community. In many roles, I engage with seniors in the district and listen to their concerns and what they want done. It’s a different perspective.”
He hopes that there is more of a balance between market rate and affordable housing. Yip has been active in the ID community for 14 years. He’s served on many boards and associations, including the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Hong Kong Business Association, and the National Association of Asian American Professionals.
The ISRD is established “to promote, preserve, and perpetuate the cultural, economic, historical, and otherwise beneficial qualities of the area, particularly the features derived from its Asian heritage” through several goals and objectives. This includes providing a stable residential neighborhood with a mixture of housing types, which includes affordable and market rate housing.
The ISRD board also is enlisted to encourage the “rehabilitation of existing structures” and “exercise a reasonable degree of control over site development.” The board follows and applies these guidelines in considering how new development can be compatible with the historic character of the district.
As with other areas of the city which has cranes and construction, the ID is experiencing its own changes. In 2017, the Seattle City Council passed rezones to Chinatown-International District, which provided extra height for buildings in the neighborhood in exchange for either using floor space for affordable housing or paying into an affordable housing fund in-lieu of providing that space. The “up zones” would lure developers seeking to build in the neighborhood — one of the last fertile areas of the city that is close to the downtown core, yet still reasonably priced. The balance between embracing the changing landscape of the city with the anticipated streams of commerce coming to the ID is balanced with the need to preserve its cultural center and the affordability relied upon by many of its longtime, aging residents. The tug and pull of affordable housing versus market rate housing is another concern. The ISRD board is a check against development.
According to ISRD Board Liaison Rebecca Frestedt, there were 10 letters of interest for the two openings that were recently filled. Due to the development within the community, the profile of the neighborhood has been elevated. With the expansion of the ID to include Little Saigon, there was more outreach to notify people about the expansion and to notify them about the election.
Tiernan Martin just finished his term as board chair in November. He serves as a data analyst and urban planner for the nonprofit organization, Futurewise. He has lived in the ID since he moved to Seattle from Alaska in 2009. Martin chose the neighborhood because of its density richness in culture, and all its amenities. Martin’s interest in the neighborhood preceded his current career in urban planning.
“I was curious about the position and role of the board,” said Martin when first approached about the opportunity.
“The experience of publicly deliberating [during a board meeting] is challenging, but important,” explained Martin of the significance of the public evaluation of projects at bi-monthly meetings. He indicated that members of the board have to insulate themselves from outside conversation about pending applications before the board. He also stated that board members do not talk about pending applications prior to the public meeting, as it is against the rules.
The influx of applications and projects has been daunting. It is still a volunteer board that dedicates its time for the betterment of the neighborhood. Martin explained that the ISRD board has implemented an Architectural Review Committee comprised of three members of the board, including the chair with an architecture background — they facilitate the process of reviewing more technical issues coming before the board. The ISRD board hears small changes made by applicants, which may go unnoticed. However, there has been an uptick in larger projects on the horizon, which leads to the belief that more development is imminent.
A portion of what the board does is help applicants explain their new projects and changes as it applies to the goals and objectives of the ID’s Design Guidelines, as well as the Seattle Municipal Code. The ISRD board will have public discussion at a hearing regarding a project and will evaluate whether a pending application meets the guidelines. The ISRD board will then make a recommendation, which will be ratified by the city.
The Seattle City Council also has extended the boundaries of the ID and has designated funding in revisiting the design guidelines for the neighborhood. The rewriting process is still ongoing, but the hope is that the revised guidelines will provide a lot more clarity in light of the recent zoning changes, and give the ISRD board more guidance in managing new construction and preserving the cultural significance of the community.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.