“The developers are coming in and whatever they want to do with Little Saigon, they’re going to do it,” said Nguyen. “They’re buying the land. They’re making plans.”
Though such projects are allowed under existing zoning, Mayor Ed Murray’s upzone would permit even taller buildings in most of the Chinatown International District, including Little Saigon, and would trigger a new program requiring developers to help create affordable housing.
Nguyen isn’t set against the upzone. He says more affordable housing would be welcome. Indeed, some neighborhood advocates are asking the council to boost the requirements, which the city says would generate about 150 income- and rent-restricted units over 10 years.
The proposal’s relatively modest changes in zoning, which would allow buildings one to three stories higher, aren’t expected to directly displace many residents. There are only four housing units in existing Chinatown ID structures on parcels identified by the city as redevelopable. …
The upzones are activating Murray’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, wherein developers include low-income units in their buildings or pay fees.
Though public-safety problems and municipal neglect may have held the neighborhood back in past years, Little Saigon and the rest of the Chinatown ID sit near downtown with easy access to I-5, commuter trains, light-rail and a streetcar line.
Those are ingredients for smart and explosive urban growth, and some business owners are excited about development bringing better spaces and new customers.
The Asian Plaza property where Tamarind Tree is located will be developed by the Chinn family, which has longtime ties to the Chinatown ID and which plans to have the existing anchor tenant, Viet Wah Supermarket, anchor the new complex, as well.
“The Chinatown International District is still a culturally rich neighborhood, but over the years it has lagged behind … in terms of family income level and employment,” the project’s website says, casting the coming changes as progress.
“As the next generation moves up the economic ladder by becoming doctors, lawyers, and accountants, they are less inclined to live and work in (the) district. What will help is commercial development that modernizes the area and provides employment, income, and vitality that the next generation wants, and yet reflects and honors the cultural identity of each immigrant group.”
Nguyen says Little Saigon’s character won’t survive, however, if the new retail spaces are too large and costly. Many small-business owners in the neighborhood, including Nguyen, already are on tenuous, month-to-month leases, he says.