Over the last few years, there’s been a building boom in South Lake Union, which contrasts with what’s going on in the International District (ID) — nothing. The City of Seattle is hoping to jumpstart development in the area by allowing taller buildings. Elements of a proposal say that building limits in Japantown will increase from 15 stories to 24 stories. The southern area along Dearborn will be raised from seven stories to 15 stories. Chinatown’s limits will remain at seven stories, but owners will be able to sell unused development rights to pay for improvements. In parts of Little Saigon, new heights will be raised to 15 stories.
However, people are asking, will taller buildings address the problems the ID is facing or create more? Is the history and character of the ID going to change due to raised building heights?
Several property owners and businesses in the ID who are in favor of the proposal have drafted a letter to the Seattle City Council, pushing for more.
The letter states that some community members feel that the proposal doesn’t go far enough to ensure a healthy mix of market-rate housing to support neighborhood businesses.
“Our highest priorities are to encourage a higher density of market rate housing to attract residents with the incomes to support businesses. … In order for our community to have a vibrant business district, we need more people to live here who will shop here, eat here, and play here.”
The ID is currently dominated by subsidized affordable housing. The letter proposes that incentives are created for developers to build market-rate housing in the ID because, currently, “investors who wish to build higher-density market rate housing cannot afford to do so … due to all of the additional costs imposed by the City’s current Incentive Zoning requirements.”
There are, of course, many critics of the new building height limits. Many worry that if the ID becomes over-gentrified, the personality of the neighborhood will change. Others worry that low-income residents who currently live in the neighborhood will be pushed out in favor of bigger businesses.
However, we all know that the economy has seen better days and that the ID cannot stand more years of stagnation, which could potentially drive out the existing small businesses. As you walk down the streets of the ID, vacancy signs are ubiquitous. This is why Northwest Asian Weekly supports the new proposal.
People say that it’s important to remember the past, but is it a good idea to remain stuck in the past?
Over and over again, we’ve heard both Asians and non-Asians say that they don’t want to come to the ID because it’s “old, dirty, and ugly.” A major obstacle that restaurants currently face is a lack of business during nighttime hours because the ID has a reputation of being unsafe.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Those of us who grew up here and live here fondly call it a city within a city. We think that with development, the image of the ID can be changed, and not only will it retain its character, it will reach a larger audience, and its residents won’t be the only ones who see it as something unique.
The writers of the letter to the City of Seattle are looking for signatures. If you own a business, work, or live in the ID, contact Don Blakeney at firstname.lastname@example.org. ♦