BY NHIEN NGUYEN
Residents and concerned citizens representing Little Saigon, Chinatown/International District and Jackson Place community expressed their disappointment over the recently released Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the controversial “Dearborn Street” Project at a public hearing held at Seattle Goodwill Industries Conference Rooms on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
The Draft SEIS, prepared under the direction of the City of Seattle, Department of Planning and Development (DPD), presented the results of research and analysis on the impacts of the Dearborn Street Developers LLC’s mixed-used project, which includes a new facility for Goodwill, new retail space and new housing arranged over three city blocks around South Dearborn Street and Rainier Avenue South. The Final SEIS will be used by the City of Seattle and other agencies in making decisions on the project, including key land use decisions by the City Council.
Major concerns repeated throughout the forum were the draft’s inattention to addressing the adverse impacts to Little Saigon and surrounding neighborhoods and an overly optimistic analysis of traffic impacts during and after construction.
Jesse Robbins, who works with the Vietnamese American Economic Development Association (VAEDA), said that the Draft SEIS did not show an honest assessment of what could happen to Little Saigon. The land value would likely increase with “big box” development and drive up rates for the many Vietnamese businesses that rent property in Little Saigon. Vietnamese businesses may not survive this or the impacts of construction scheduled to occur over four years.
In relation to the positive impacts to the public of the proposed mixed-use project, the Draft SEIS states: “The introduction of new residents and employees as a result of the proposal would enlarge the local population that may patronize existing commercial establishments in Little Saigon and other nearby commercial areas.”
However, Robbins said that there was no guarantee that the new residents and employees would frequent Little Saigon as the development targets the mainstream public.
Moreover, Tom Im of Inter*Im, which facilitates development in the International District, stated that there was nothing in the Draft SEIS about housing diversity and affordability, which would bring in residents likely to shop at Little Saigon or the ID.
VAEDA Executive Director Quang Nguyen addressed the existing traffic congestion on Rainier and Dearborn that would only get worse with the project, which would include such “big box” stores like Target. As tolerance is already at its maximum, in particular on days with Mariners and Seahawks traffic, fewer people will come to Little Saigon.
The huge project is a perfect recipe for the destruction of small businesses in Little Saigon, says Nguyen. “It would destroy a small neighborhood and destroy a cultural center.”
Nguyen emphasized that the goal was not to stop all development, but to create projects that would benefit Little Saigon and the surrounding communities, such as office space and not national chain stores that would destroy the character of the area.
Danny Tran, who works in Little Saigon at JTD Real Estate, said that the Draft SEIS was “way too optimistic.” He said that the document also seemed to support the project rather than be an objective analysis or be inclusive of the Vietnamese community’s perspective. “I don’t see why we should take it [Draft SEIS] seriously,” said Tran.
Scott Kemp, Land Use Planner for DPD and moderator of the forum, responded that there should be no reason why Tran’s respective should not be reflected in the Draft SEIS and that multiple perspectives should be presented in the document.
Jill Noe of Jackson Place Community affirmed previous comments that adverse traffic impacts were not fully addressed in the Draft SEIS. She also stated that large regional retail stores were not compatible with single-family residential neighborhoods. She voiced frustration that none of the repeated Jackson Place Community letters and input from earlier planning meetings had been responded to. Similarly, Inter*Im expressed that many of their concerns sent to DPD last November were not addressed.
Loann Phan, who works in Little Saigon and also regularly attends Vietnamese church in Little Saigon, said the traffic was already bad in the area. She did not believe that the project would reduce traffic because people would not take public transportation as they would buy larger items at stores like Target, which requires cars to take items back to their homes.
Overall, the concerned community members at the forum believed that the Draft SEIS was biased towards the benefits to Goodwill and the developer and not the surrounding communities.
At one point, a resident of Jackson Place Community asked Kemp who he was working for, as his responses to the public comments were largely in defense of the project, to which Kemp replied he was only “hunting” for further discussion on points that would lead him to an understanding of their concerns.
Throughout the evening, Kemp also repeated the notion that development was inevitable for the affected area, which opponents of the mixed-use proposal say ignored the no-action, no street vacation options.
Written comments may be submitted to the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) by 5 p.m. on Sept. 25. Send to [email protected] or Department of Planning and Development, ATTN: Scott Kemp, Land Use Planner, Seattle Municipal Tower, P.O. Box 34019, 700 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98124.