Community group creates petition to stop over development in Ballard

photoA group of concerned Ballard residents who are alarmed by the “recent, drastic, and developer-led changes to our neighborhood” have banded together and created www.livableballard.org.

Within the last week, as you may have seen, the group has distributed hundreds of flyers (pictured) to homes in Ballard urging locals to sign a petition to make our representatives aware of residents’ concerns regarding development in our neighborhood.

Development has been a hot topic on My Ballard in recent times, with many readers expressing their concern about the future of Ballard and asking what they can do to prevent over development. Livableballard.org may be the answer for those who want to make their voice heard.

The team state on their website that they “seek to improve community engagement in growth and provide Ballard residents with tools and resources for planning and development that reflects our needs and values, not those of non-resident property developers.”

Check out the message on the livableballard.org website below:

Are you concerned that the rapid proliferation of new development throughout your residential neighborhood surpasses the rate at which community, environmental, and infrastructure impact can properly be assessed? Troubled by the potential loss of your privacy to towering new construction? Worried that you’ll no longer be able to grow your own food in the shadow cast by enormous out-of-scale development? Well you should be! Recent changes to Seattle’s lowrise multifamily land use code precipitated a development boom that has grossly exceeded our city government’s own growth targets for Ballard’s Urban Village.

These changes have also enabled developers to circumvent review processes intended to ensure that projects fit sensitively into neighborhoods. Dodging these review processes often results in buildings that are architecturally discordant and demonstrate disregard for the concerns of neighboring residents.

Increased density is inevitable and, to some extent, even desirable; theoretically, it should prevent urban sprawl, preserve green space, and give rise to affordable housing. We believe current growth in Ballard’s Urban Village residential areas dangerously outpaces expansion of infrastructure and services (metro/fire/police) while conferring few ecological or affordable housing advantages.

With numerous, large, apartment and condo buildings already built or under construction in Ballard’s midrise zones, we question an affordable housing justification put forward by developers and their mouthpieces for razing so many modest, lowrise zone structures. In fact, reasonably-priced duplex and triplex rentals as well as modest single family homes and historic structures in Ballard’s lowrise zones are often replaced with towering, out-of-scale, “formula design” developments that, when priced at market value, likely displace many of Ballard’s low to middle income residents.

The good news? If you’re frustrated by our representatives’ seeming inattention to residents’ concerns, developers’ clear indifference toward Ballard’s architectural history, and both parties’ inattention to community impact, you’re not alone!

We’ve drafted a petition addressing some of these concerns. It seeks corrections to Seattle’s current lowrise multifamily land use code while requesting a more transparent and resident-inclusive project vetting process. We hope this petition will encourage more community involvement in shaping Ballard’s future. While this document specifically cites Ballard concerns, we believe the changes we’re requesting would positively affect all Seattle’s lowrise multifamily zoned areas, as well as lowrise-adjacent areas; we strongly encourage all Seattle residents to sign the petition and join us in this effort to reasonably guide otherwise rampant growth so our neighborhoods can continue to be vibrant and livable.

The website includes helpful information for locals about what they can do to make their voice heard effectively and also provides guidelines for writing to council members about the issue of development.

The My Ballard team emailed livableballard.org today and we are waiting for a response to find out more about the organization.

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john shepherd
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john shepherd

Love to see this!!! Finally some citizen common sense SPEAKING UP.

Andrew
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Andrew

This NIMBY-ism makes me really sad.

Cosmo
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Cosmo

Are they putting anything back into our neighborhood to offset their impact, such as investment in parks, parking, or transit? I don’t think so… Seems like we are losing more than we’re gaining.

Aleks
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Aleks

The group claims that replacing “modest single-family homes” with midrise apartment buildings will make Ballard *less* affordable. The numbers do not bear this out.

I just did a quick search on Redfin. The cheapest single-family house for sale that’s anywhere near Ballard is a 2-bedroom, 830 square foot bungalow at 77th and 26th. For this modest home, you can pay the low price of $389,000, or $1,824/month with a 30-year mortgage. And that’s with 20% down — meaning that you had to have saved up about $80,000, once you include closing costs.

If you look at sales over the past 12 months, excluding short sales and foreclosures, the cheapest sale was a 420 square foot home for $256,000. If you assume an FHA loan with 3.5% down, we’re still talking about $1,600/month.

In contrast, Calhoun Properties offers “aPodments” starting at $600/month, with no down payment other than a security deposit.

I invite anyone from this group to explain why single-family housing is actually more affordable than apartments.

Aleks
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Aleks

Cosmo: Nothing… except for housing. Which is an essential public service, and one that we don’t have nearly enough of, which you can see by the rate at which rents and real estate prices have risen in Seattle over the past 10-20 years.

You wouldn’t ask grocery stores to build new bus lines. You wouldn’t ask restaurants to build new parks. Why would you require that housing developers do all of these things other than providing housing?

As far as parking goes, I would argue that building too much parking makes a neighborhood worse, not better. Think about Ballard Ave. Now imagine if you replaced a block of storefronts with a three-story parking garage. I’m not saying that we should eliminate all parking, but given that most new buildings include at least one new underground spot per apartment built — if not more — I’m not sure what else you would want them to provide.

Rydiculous
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Rydiculous

Andrew – this ‘NIMBY-ism” that makes you so sad is actually “HBHIOBY” (Has Been Happening in our Back Yard.

If you like, I’ll buy you a drink at The Viking and explain…

Misty Olson
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Misty Olson

Thank you for those who have coordinated this effort. It will certainly provide a venue for us to express concerns, become further informed and hopefully gain an active role in the development of our neighborhood vs a passive role watching what the developers decide to do.

Rydiculous
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Rydiculous

Aleks – A lot of the apartments do have parking, but they charge tenants for the spots. Notice along 15th across from Ballard HS & across from the pancake house, all of the tenants vehicles who’ve chosen not to pay extra to rent a parking spot.

Or, you could go one block back to Mary or 16th ave, and see all the street jammed with the new car owning apartment dweller’s vehicles.

Aleks
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Aleks

Rydiculous — While I don’t agree with Andrew’s use of the NIMBY label, I think you’re missing the point. The group doesn’t exist just to document what’s already been built. They’re arguing for changes to Seattle’s land use code that will result in fewer homes being built in Ballard, which will in turn result in higher rents and higher for-sale home prices.

The past is over; what matters is what we do going forward. This group is pretty clear that what they want to see is less development. Andrew and I think that’s a bad goal.

Aleks
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Aleks

Ryducolous — Regarding parking, I’ve long argued that the real problem is the way that Seattle handles parking permits. A better way to handle it would be to figure out just how many spaces the neighborhood streets can handle, and then to distribute exactly that number of neighborhood parking permits. The permits would come with a modest annual fee, and the money would be given to a neighborhood association for spending on local improvements. Anyone who tries to park in a resident-only space without a permit would be towed and charged a heavy fine.

The fact of the matter is that land is expensive. If you try to give away parking for free (like most of our street parking is), then you’ll have way more “buyers” than spots. Imagine if you tried to give away housing for free — you’d have to wait in line for 20 years before you could get an apartment! The right solution is to charge the market price, not to double down on giving away this scarce resource.

Andrew
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Andrew

Sorry I used the NIMBY label, but it serves as a good catch-all for people who don’t want people moving in near them for any variety of reasons. The website states “We believe current growth in Ballard’s Urban Village residential areas dangerously outpaces expansion of infrastructure and services (metro/fire/police) while conferring few ecological or affordable housing advantages.” This is just flat out, objectively wrong. As Aleks points out, increased development REDUCES HOUSING PRICES. Having people living in higher density areas REDUCES ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT on a per person basis. If they are truly concerned about these problems, they should be advocating for more development not less. If you want better infrastructure, then instead of inhibiting development you support the organizations that are lobbying for those goals, e.g. Seattle Subway for transit. If you don’t like the cookie cutter look of some developments, lobby your representatives to LOOSEN development standards, not tighten them. The reason so many of them have to be the same is because they have to comply with the DPD’s ever more restrictive and antiquated rules. If people want to form a group with the purpose of keeping their property value high or because they dislike people from a… Read more »

Mark
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Mark

I am from Ballard, born and raised here.
It is absolutely a different place today. I am currently living in the Green Lake neighborhood and that’s going through the same changes. I am living next door to a Vacation Rental House, its rents by the day. Its a total nightmare!!!!
This city is only interested in generating as much revenue as possible, that’s why you are seeing theses single family homes turn into as many units as possible. My experience with Sally Clark at the city council has been a waste of time. The best thing we can do is band together, there is power in numbers!

john shepherd
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john shepherd

Aleks, the street parking is being given freely to the developers by our politicians , and they are not required to provide any parking in the new designated (urban villages). This is creating gridlock everywhere you go. And a parking garage on ballard avenue would be a welcome addition to the hood seeing as how there is no parking now. I would use it. These developers are laughing all the way to the bank!!

john shepherd
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john shepherd

Andrew,Are you a developer?

Mondoman
Member
Mondoman

Aleks, you write “… given that most new buildings include at least one new underground spot per apartment built — if not more — I’m not sure what else you would want them to provide.” Unfortunately, your info is out of date. There used to be parking required by the old Seattle development codes. However, the City (with City Council approval) removed this requirement, to the point where currently developers of properties within “urban village” zones (such as central Ballard) don’t have to provide ANY off-street parking! I believe this new organization is striving to reverse such poorly-thought-out recent changes in the development rules. If you think about it, most Ballard streets were built with 1-2 on-street parking spaces in the street frontage of each single-family house. Redevelopment of a lot to add density increases the number of vehicles “residing” there; to be fair to the neighborhood, new development should provide off-street parking if more than 1 or 2 vehicles will be housed there, since the number of on-street spaces is fixed in practice. This is roughly what the previous rules required. The Central Ballard Residents’ Association (CBRA) is holding its monthly public meeting this Thursday Feb 13th at Swedish… Read more »

Panoramic
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Panoramic

Rydiculous- yeah go have a drink at the Viking and then when you get drunk munchies hit up Denny’s.

This is group is pro NIMBYism

Mondoman
Member
Mondoman

Andrew, you’re the only one mentioning keeping property values high or disliking other social groups. Better watch out — impartial readers might infer you’ve got no better arguments than ad hominems :)

Jay
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Jay

Ballard has PLENTY of low rent apartments, what’s the occupancy rate? Do we really need more? The argument shouldn’t be about apartments vs houses anymore. It should be about preserving some culture in Seattle/Ballard.

The bigger issue to me is the absolute disregard to Ballard culture and history when building monstrous rectangle buildings that any first year architecture student could design in a half hour.

The developers could not care less about what they are building, and that needs to change. There is no stopping this tide, no way, but we can try to enforce some design changes. The corner of Market and 15th looks like “AnywhereVille USA”, strip mall city. We don’t need to look like Bellevue or Redmond, we are Ballard, rich in history.

Personally, I don’t want Ballard to completely be overrun with these disgusting looking boxes, no neighborhoods, no identity, all gone.

j. l. clarke
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j. l. clarke

Being new (2 years) to Seattle I am in a state of shock over zoning here. It seems anything goes with developers calling all the shots. These large apt buildings are managed primarily out of state and are extremely expensive. These are not low cost housing by any stretch.

Mason
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Mason

I had one of these fliers delivered to my house this weekend. Unlike some of the angry, pro-developer folks commenting above, I actually went to the livableballard web site and read the petition. I’d strongly encourage other folks who live in the single family part of Central Ballard to do the same. The petition is about the developer land rush that’s happening all around us as a result of changes to the low rise multifamily zoning code in 2010. It’s not about microhousing or bread loaf buildings in the downtown core.

I know from experience that long-term low income rental buildings are being bulldozed and replaced by townhouses that sell for $500k and up. It’s happening on my block. I got a card in the mail from a realtor just yesterday bragging that she sold one of these for $700k.

What’s happening has nothing to do with affordable housing and diversity, it’s about maximizing profit for a select group of developers from the eastside and Lynnwood.

Seattle Slew
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Seattle Slew

Aleks, the past is never “over.” I would wager that you are too young to have yet lived somewhere that had its history blighted and character destroyed by rampant, thoughtlessly done development. Development and urban density can be achieved in a manner that embraces and includes a place’s history and all sorts of things that have made that place unique and desirable to live in. It is simply not being done well in Ballard, and in years to come even more people will look at pictures of Ballard as it once was and will lament that heedless developers out to make a quick buck (under the guise of providing affordable housing) were given free rein to obliterate most of what made this neighborhood an interesting place. You CAN actually have both development and conservation…I’ve lived in places where it’s been done well. And maybe, if both new and old Ballard residents can see through developer shenanigans, it can still be done in Ballard.

Toby Thaler
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Toby Thaler

Aleks, you write, “You wouldn’t ask grocery stores to build new bus lines. You wouldn’t ask restaurants to build new parks. Why would you require that housing developers do all of these things other than providing housing?” Why? Because development has impacts and it should pay for itself. Not the retail stores directly, but the developer of the property who leases to the grocer or restaurant certainly can be asked to contribute toward the bus lines and parks needed to support the increased density. It’s called impact fees, and they are a standard mechanism to help make development pay for the impacts it creates. See http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/planning/impactpg.aspx Same with residential development; if you don’t make it pay for its impacts on public services, the public ends up paying. That’s called externalizing the costs, and it’s a gift of public resources to private developers. Or a degradation of the quality of life if the public cannot come up with the tax dollars to provide the needed bus service, parks, schools, etc. Not a very democratic value in my opinion. Seattle’s City Council has not seen fit to implement impact fees. Perhaps it’s because the council members have been too beholden to the… Read more »

Balanced Growth
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Balanced Growth

Aleks, how many square feet is that apodment that rents for $600 a month? I provide rental space in my single family home turned triplex at approximately $1.07 per square foot. Your apodment example which is likely between 70-250 sq ft and rents for $600 provides space at somewhere between $2.40 and $8.57 per square foot. You tell me what’s affordable about that? When surrounding landlords get a whif of what developers are taking out of those apodments you can be darn sure they are going to raise their rents. It’s developoment that is driving up the cost of rents in Ballard, not the other way around.

Toby Thaler
Guest
Toby Thaler

Andrew, you said, “This is just flat out, objectively wrong. As Aleks points out, increased development REDUCES HOUSING PRICES. Having people living in higher density areas REDUCES ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT on a per person basis. If they are truly concerned about these problems, they should be advocating for more development not less.”

There is no objective evidence that increasing density in core urban areas by itself significantly decreases the cost of housing. Rents in high demand, high density urban centers do not go back to pre-development rates unless you have a total collapse (Detroit, Depression). If you (or Aleks) disagree, post a link to the relevant studies.

The reduced environmental per capita impact argument has some merit. However, if you don’t provide the transit system, much of that benefit will be foregone because people will end up driving or taking taxi-equivalents. More importantly, careful analysis shows that the benefit is very localized; if you evaluate the entire urban area, there is no benefit because you can’t stop the sprawl of those with enough money to live in resource wasteful suburbs. See https://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/01/06/suburban-sprawl-cancels-carbon-footprint-savings-of-dense-urban-cores/

Mad Maxine
Guest
Mad Maxine

Tearing down great compact houses with yards full of gardens to build giant hulking borg cubes that shade the neighbors seems to be the thing in my neighborhood. I have seen 20 great little houses get torn down within 2 blocks of me since I bought my tiny house in 2004. Let’s not fail to mention the great 6-unit, single story apartment building with the nice communal yard that was torn down and replaced with 4 giant, single-family borg cubes. How the hell is that an efficient use of space? Less dense than before and more wasteful of resources (the heating on these buildings can’t be cheap). I’m not impressed. Don’t get me started about the jerk developer who tried to tear down a house that was sided with asbestos before having it abated (you bet I stopped that from happening). And then there’s the “public notice” letters and posted signs implying that there’s a public comment period. I have never seen one of these show up BEFORE the public comment period already expired. What. The. BLEEP? There is a place for development, but it needs to be reasonable. I don’t know what to do about it yet, but I’m… Read more »