Examiner Assistant Editor

On Nov. 28, during the coldest night of the year, the Dearborn Street Coalition for Livable Neighborhoods (DSCLN) made its presence known in City Hall when over 30 of its members voiced concern to the Seattle City Council over the proposed Dearborn Street project.

The newly-formed DSCLN, a coalition of 18 community, business, labor and religious organizations representing the Little Saigon, Chinatown/International District, north Beacon Hill, Jackson Place, Squire Park and Central Area neighborhoods, urged the Council to further debate the approval of a city ordinance amendment that will allow construction to proceed on the Dearborn Street project – a planned 620,000 square-foot mixed-use complex to include big-box retailers such as a Target store, a new 120,000 square-foot Seattle Goodwill facility, over 550 residential units above the complex and about 2,300 parking spaces.

During most of this year, representatives from neighborhoods around the proposed project site – particularly the Little Saigon Vietnamese American district – have publicly stated and have been meeting with the project’s builder, Dearborn Street Developers, over negative effects the project could have on surrounding communities. Main concerns have been the potentially detrimental economic impact on small businesses and residents, and increased traffic congestion.

The evening meeting of the Council’s Urban Development and Planning Committee heard public comment on 2006 Comprehensive Plan Amendments to the Seattle Comprehensive Plan of the Seattle Commercial Code. One of those amendments would allow a “contract re-zone” – changing the zoning code from “Industrial” to “commercial/mixed use” – to allow the complex to be constructed on the 10.25-acre site of the present Goodwill property on Rainier Avenue and South Dearborn Street. Passing the amendment would also allow for future re-zoning designations, said Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, chair of the Committee.

Before public comment began, Steinbrueck noted that “there is great spirit and emotion in this issue.” He urged the speakers to “consider salient” and “compelling issues,” and not to repeat what previous speakers had said.

During the hour-and-a-half of public commenting, Coalition speakers and supporters wore bright green and pink tags reading “DSCLN.”

Quang Nquyen, executive director of the Vietnamese American Economic and Development Association and co-chair of DSCLN, led off the speakers stating there are 120 businesses within the Little Saigon neighborhood that serve approximately 30,000 Vietnamese Americans. Community oversight and participation are “essential” for the development to be “compatible with neighborhoods,” he said, and that developers of any large development must take into account the “cumulative effect it will have on all communities.”

“Growth is good,” Nguyen continued, but such growth must “ensure benefits for all parties. We are still far from a full-fledged agreement.”

Other Vietnamese American community leaders and business owners stated that such a large development “could destroy” their small businesses that took “generations to build” since the proposed project is “within spitting distance of Little Saigon.” A quick rise in property values and rent could cause them to “shut down and move somewhere else.” Housing activists added that seniors “cannot afford market-rate housing” and without a community of ethnic businesses, will no longer be able to acquire their traditional food.

Labor union representatives expressed that they would want “workers to have a real seat at the table” and that the Dearborn Street project would meet employment and apprenticeship guidelines. Many DSCLN supporters stated that a “Community Benefits Agreement” must take place before the project can proceed. DSCLN, in an e-mail distributed to its supporters, stated that that such an Agreement “will be produced through a formal negotiation process resulting in a legally binding, enforceable agreement that resolves the interests of the community stakeholders and the site developers.”

State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said that “something plunked down in their neighborhood should be shaped by them. An agreement needs to be worked out directly by the community.” Bill Bradburd, DSCLN co-chair and Jackson Place Community Council member, said “all we’re looking for is leveling the playing field here.”

When his turn came to speak, Darrell Vange of Deaborn Street Developers quipped to DSCLN members and supporters: “Go ahead – clap.” He said that he has attended over 60 meetings with concerned communities, and “if it takes 60 more meetings” he will do so. Without the Comprehensive Plan change, he said, there will be no jobs, no housing and “no Goodwill.”

Michael Jurich, vice president and chief financial officer of Seattle Goodwill, urged passage of the amendment to “move the project to the next level.” Rick Parks of the Dearborn Street development team said 25 percent of the residential units would be allocated for residents making “median income or below.” Janice Jackson-Haley, Seattle Goodwill human resources director, said that Seattle Goodwill is “housed in an old bank vault built in 1923,” and that the facility was last updated in 1965.

“Short of a miracle, there is not going to be another way,” she said. “Goodwill cannot delay any longer.”

After this hearing, The Seattle City Council was still soliciting written public comment on the Comprehensive Plan Amendment and has yet to make a decision.

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