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Chinatown residents fear being priced out, upzone or not

Seattle's Chinatown-International District
Flickr Photo/Curtis Cronn (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/
Seattle's Chinatown-International District

Seattle officials are moving forward with plans to increase density in Chinatown-International District. It's the next in a series of neighborhoods undergoing a rezone. At a City Council meeting Tuesday, neighbors shared their concerns.

Under the proposal, developers would be required to set aside 5-7 percent of new units for lower income renters. In the downtown/South Lake Union rezone, this was a big issue.

Residents and business owners in Chinatown-ID, though, are welcoming the idea of as much affordable housing as possible.

But they are worried about something else: There's been a rush of new developers buying land in the historic district. Neighbors fear people and local businesses could be pushed out.

Tam Nguyen owns a restaurant on Jackson Street. He’s also part of a group that wants to build a gathering place for the Vietnamese community. He says that's becoming harder to do.

Nguyen: "We've been priced out by private developers. We cannot even get into our own land. So we would like the City Council to find a way to help us preserve those lands in our own neighborhood, for our future."

Nguyen and other people in the neighborhood are worried about displacement.

Nguyen: "I'm here not opposing the upzone, but I'm here to ask the City Council to pick a way to preserve our [cultural] identity in our neighborhood."

City Council President Bruce Harrell said he's also concerned about protecting the neighborhood’s culture.

Harrell: "I suppose one could argue all property in this city is unique, but I think this is particularly unique and this has become a gem and a tourist attraction. So we've got to dig deeper bringing an environment in which vibrant economic opportunity is welcomed."

Harrell said the city may need to do more than just a rezone to make that happen. City Council members say they will look for ways to preserve the historic culture.

The proposed rezone will not impact the heart of Chinatown-ID: roughly eight square blocks between Jackson St. and Weller St.