Left: Yesler Terrace today. Right: Yesler Terrace re-development rendering.
Left: Yesler Terrace today. Right: Yesler Terrace re-development rendering.

According to the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), there would be no “significant adverse impact” on the Chinatown/International District due to the re-development of Yesler Terrace. To be more accurate, SHA completely leaves out any mention of impacts on Chinatown/ID in its recent voluminous Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This document comprises of 2 volumes, and volume one weighs about 5 pounds!

How can such exhaustive impact analysis not include a sizable and historically significant neighborhood that sits adjacent to this site? This omission is very troubling considering Yesler Terrace will be one of the biggest redevelopments of any contiguous piece of land in Seattle in the past 20 years, if not longer.

Currently, Yesler Terrace sits on about 30 acres, is zoned L-3 (maximum height 35’) and has 561 units of low-income housing.

Under the “Preferred Alternative” proposed by SHA, the site would be allowed to develop up to 300 ft and have:

  • 5,000 residential units (mostly market-rate)
  • 900,000 square feet of office space
  • 88,000 square feet of retail
  • 5,100 parking spaces

Going from 561 units to 5,000 units is close to a tenfold increase and going from practically zero square footage of office space to 900,000 is about an increase of the same order of magnitude.

Yet, there seems to be absolutely no indication that an economic impact analysis was commissioned to measure the impact on adjacent neighborhoods such as Chinatown/ID. What can we infer about SHA from this omission?

On the surface, it appears as though SHA has been listening attentively to the concerns of the community. A Citizen Review Committee (CRC) comprising of over 20 key stakeholders from the surrounding neighborhoods was formed in 2008 to give voice to the issues and concerns of the community. From 2008 to 2009, the CRC (of which I’m a participant) met to develop a set of “Guiding Principles.” These principles are supposed to address issues of social equity, economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and one-for-one replacement of current units.

From 2010 to the present, the CRC has been meeting to review the proposed site Master Plan which is comprised of five alternatives: 1) lower density, 2) medium density, 3) higher density, 4) existing zoning, and 5) no action. Throughout this process, SHA has been very good at listening to the community.

However, listening to our concerns and actually taking direct action to address those concerns are two very different things. For example, I’ve continually raised the issue of impacts to small businesses in Little Saigon and the rest of the ID for the past three years. How will the radical change in zoning and density impact affordability for small businesses in the adjacent neighborhoods? This crucial question is not addressed in the DEIS, no analysis whatsoever.

Another indication that SHA is only good at listening is the fact that they have essentially left the International District out of their $24 million Choice Neighborhoods grant application to US Dept of Housing and Urban Development. Some of this grant funding could have gone to support small businesses as well as to programs that would help preserve the social and cultural fabric of our District. Drawing the boundaries for the grant, they include only a tiny sliver of Little Saigon.

SHA did not include a thorough economic and social impact analysis in the DEIS for the ID because they are smart developers. They understand that addressing this issue in the DEIS would give the community leverage to hold them accountable. Instead, they chose the less legally-binding route of “Guiding Principles” and “Citizen Review Committee.” The CRC is only an advisory group afterall — absolutely no teeth. And SHA is not just any developer. As a public entity and one of the largest property owners in Seattle, SHA must be held to a higher level of accountability.

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