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Ballard development to be built inches from neighbor’s home

Posted by Danielle Anthony-Goodwin on March 10th, 2014

ballard60thstThe Ballard development situation is gaining coverage from major local media outlets including KOMO, Seattle PI and Curbed. The reports focus on local couple Laurette and Leroy Simmons who are dealing with a development next to their own a property on NW 60th St.

According to the KOMO report, Laureate and Leroy retired to NW 60th St six years ago, purchasing a home that had recently been renovated. They moved in with Leroy’s mother and further updated the house with a third floor deck and a tree house for the grandchildren in the backyard.

The family, who are reportedly friendly with their neighbors, are about to become close in all senses of the word when a developer constructs four rowhouses next to their home. According to plans filed with the Department of Planning and Development, the houses could be built as close as 2.5 feet way from the Simmons’s home with the Simmons’ gutter 10-12 inches from their neighbors’ wall.

“I don’t understand how they can build a house 10 inches away. Certainly they have to be on our property to do that,” Laurette told KOMO news. “We’re very disappointed in the fact that the city is going to allow us to happen. They’re just cheating us.”

As we have seen with many of the new developments in Ballard, the change in city regulations currently allows developers to build right on the property line. Many locals have expressed their opposition to the current city regulations including the creators of www.livableballard.org who created a petition to oppose the “recent, drastic, and developer-led changes to our neighborhood.”

“You’re starting to see townhomes, apartments, rowhouses go in, in areas ripe enough for development,” Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development, told KOMO. “The row house was sort-of a new development type for Seattle, but something that’s very tradtitional in other areas of the country, like New York, Brooklyn, San Francisco.”

As for the Simmons family, they have significant concern that the development will not only impact their lives during construction but as the rowhouses need maintenance over the years. “There’s no chance of them being able to maintain it once it’s built,” Leroy told KOMO.

“We’re not against density. We understand we live in a very desirable area,” Laurette told KOMO, “but to build a house so close to another house which does not allow either one of them to be maintained – how can that possibly happen?”

Sadly, this situation is becoming all too common in Ballard. If you have a story about a development close to your home email us at tips@myballard.com.

Photo courtesy of KOMO News.

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42 reader comments so far ↓

  • 1 Jimmy // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Quickly install a fence right on your property line so it is physically impossible for them to do construction. That should slow down a bit I think.

  • 2 Keith // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Developer built within three feet of my property line. they put the fence on the property line.

  • 3 Sam // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Because …developers!

    More environmentalist greenwashing.

  • 4 Carla Madrigal // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:46 am

    It’s a pretty big stretch to compare what’s going on in Ballard with what went on in San Francisco 100 plus years ago. Some individuals will make the most ludicrous claims to justify their irresponsbile and destructive behavior.

  • 5 Eric // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:51 am

    This is a consequence of some changes to the zoning code a few years ago. Previously, the code required buildings to be five feet from the side lot line, and the result was a bunch of those townhome “four-packs” that have popped up all over the place. A lot of people complained that those were ugly, because the visual focus was often the driveway, and the units often didn’t even have front doors facing the street.

    In response to that feedback, the city council added a new “rowhouse” option that allows developers to build all the way to the side lot line, so long as every unit directly faces the street and isn’t behind another unit. The idea was to encourage developments similar to the well-liked rows of connected houses that are found in other cities (like San Francisco).

    Rowhouses aren’t required for new construction. The townhome four-packs are still legal to build, but the developer is given a few more square feet of floor space to work with if they opt for a rowhouse instead. The incentive seems to have worked in this case.

    I would like to point out that the Simmons family themselves own a house that is only 10-12 inches from the property line. Would they be completely satisfied if the developer built their new homes 10 inches from the property line instead of building all the way to the line? I have no way of knowing for sure, but I somehow doubt it. Seems everyone in this neighborhood is “all for density” until their neighbor chooses to install some next door.

  • 6 Molly // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:58 am

    We have two townhouses that were built on the back half of our lot before we bought our house. Luckily they are about 8-10 feet behind our house, so we still have some space. But we did just find that their power line easement runs super close to our house – which required a change in our basement remodel plans (can’t dig a deeper window well for an egress with it in the way). Super annoying.

    I would be very frustrated if these townhouses were any closer to us – they already dwarf us!

  • 7 Don Milgate // Mar 10, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I think it’s time for some public action on curtailing development in Ballard.

  • 8 Chris // Mar 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Rowhouse development in Ballard is exciting and should be encouraged….much better than the “fourpacks” referred to above.

    I find it strange that people that own property feel they are also entitled to dictate the type of houseing is developed on the property next to theirs. Development that occurs outside of your property is determined at the larger city level–and I think Ballard/Seattle will certainy benefit from increased density.

    Increased density will help support more walkable business districts and the overall vibrancy of our neighborhoods. This is the essence of city living compared to life in the suburbs. If you don’t want to live close to your neighbors, perhaps the suburbs are more in sync with what you’re looking for?

  • 9 Chris // Mar 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    It’s a double-edged sword. If you limit development you limit the housing supply. Limit the housing supply and housing prices will go up and then the only people who will be able to live here are people who have been here for decades and people with tons of money. That’s pretty much what happened in SF. I’m sure the people who have been here for decades would be happy with that but it’s not so good for the overall health of the city.

    All that said, the rules should be modified so that you can’t build right up to the line if doing so doesn’t allow for room to properly maintain the house next door. I’d also be concerned about emergency egress issues. Blocking the only window in a room could mean blocking the only means of escape. Building to the line is fine if you’re next to a similar sized high density building or a single family home that has no windows on that side but that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here.

  • 10 B Michael // Mar 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    @Keith — they put a fence on the property line? Where else would you put a fence?

    As a new Ballard resident I am reminded of Robert Frost : good fences make good neighbors

  • 11 john // Mar 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    These developers and the city planners work hand in hand and do what they want to maximize profits with little concern for the community until that community rises up to be heard!! Lets make some noise!!! Ballard is being destroyed with all kinds of new construction that have varying degrees of negative effects, from lack of parking, building to close to neighbors, to apodements!! etc

  • 12 shawn // Mar 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    whiners. your house is built on the property line, why shouldn’t your neighbors build on the property line too?

    you could always move to bellevue.

  • 13 ProgressiveBallard // Mar 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    When the siding on this brand new building fails in 3 years, how is it going to be replaced considering there likely isn’t 10 inch deep scaffolding out there, let alone a construction worker?

  • 14 Avatar of plasticbags plasticbags // Mar 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I think that the emergency egress issue a couple of you have brought up is a valid concern. You have to be able to get out of a bedroom window. I don’t know if the code reflects that or not but if you are the one living in the house you should care.

    Existing houses can’t be lifted and moved away from the property line. So it only makes sense that new construction be built in a way that does not prevent the occupants of either home to exit from their windows. It makes a lot more sense the measure that in a distance from the existing structure rather than a distance from the property line.

  • 15 Amy O // Mar 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Why isn’t it possible for the developer to recoup their investment for this project by building 3 houses instead of 4? A little more breathing space for everyone. Good Karma.

  • 16 junior // Mar 10, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    That is an interesting observation, plastic bags.
    I have never before heard the argument that the rowhouses built on the property-line would compromise a required egress for a neighboring single-family house (assuming they don’t put windows on the sides of these rowhouses).

    I suspect that since single-family houses are required to be 5′ from the side line, that the burden lies with them to maintain egress. Although if the city permitted this ‘remodel’, perhaps they would make the new rowhouses accommodate a path of egress to any neighboring windows.
    Not to mention natural light or ventilation requirements.

  • 17 35th and Thistle // Mar 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    More dense infill development is good. It keeps people from paving wetlands in the suburbs for McMansions, puts people where we already have mass transit and other infrastructure, and in the aggregate increases the housing supply for younger and relatively less well off buyers. Seattle has too much single family zoning, which prices out younger and less well off home buyers in favor of people who bought years ago.

  • 18 Sam // Mar 10, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    “If you don’t want to live close to your neighbors, perhaps the suburbs are more in sync with what you’re looking for?”

    If you want to live like sardines, perhaps NYC would be more in sync with what you’re looking for?

  • 19 Sam // Mar 10, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Here come the urbanists, selling their snake oil, developer promoted, greenwashing BS.

    How call you tell an urbanist is lying?

    His lips are moving.

  • 20 Joe Ballard // Mar 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Note that the project architect is a member of the Seattle Planning Commission, so that can’t hurt when projects like this need city permits.

  • 21 Ballardog // Mar 11, 2014 at 12:23 am

    It’s a quality of life and a property rights issue. The lifestyle parameters of the community should be set by the people already existing in that community. Unfortunately there is no representation. City council members have no geographical accountability and too often pander to special interest. Charter 19 which separates council members via districts is a partial solution.

  • 22 Sam // Mar 11, 2014 at 6:42 am

    @21 Only two more years and we’ll actually have a local rep on the city council, no more downtown, monied, greenwashing fools in the pockets of developers telling us ‘it’s good for the environment’.

  • 23 Anon // Mar 11, 2014 at 9:00 am

    @9 That’s what we’ve been told for years, but it’s only gotten more expensive as more development comes in. But hey, if you believe that more development means lower prices, I have a monorail to sell you.

  • 24 Shilshole Crabber // Mar 11, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Truly there is a difference between smart density and density simply for the sake of density. My understanding is that the Ballard neighborhood has easily met its density quotas under the GMA. Given that, I wish the city could be thoughtful about what’s now going into our neighborhood.

    I’m anxious to see if the new city council representation system changes things. Depends on who our rep is.

  • 25 Kylek // Mar 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

    This is the essential conflict of a neighborhood in transition. Only small sections of Seattle are zoned for multi family use so they are in high demand. Do we attempt to placate semi-suburban forms which tend to lead to poorly realized outcomes like the tall skinnies and design by zoning townhouses from the last boom? Or do we move towards forms that work well in urban areas (like real row houses) but accelerate the discomfort of the remaining SFH owners? I am obviously in favor of the latter. The areas that were zoned LR1-3 should favor LR1-3 uses. Seattle is still very largely SFH only in its zoning.

  • 26 Kylek // Mar 11, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Also: Sam is a well documented troll and an unfortunate side effect of moving away from FB validation on My Ballard.

    He is also wrong about what the new district zones will do regarding district 6 (Ballard/Fremont) because he’s apparently bad at math.

  • 27 Sam // Mar 11, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    That’s right Kylek, call out urbanists for being in the pockets of greenwashing developers, you must be a troll.

    If I’m wrong on district math, why did the urbanists at Seattle Transit Blog etc etc and all their developer allies fight them tooth and nail? Because they knew developers and downtown money would lose their influence and actual Seattle residents would finally have some say in how our communities are shaped.

    Urbanists hate democracy.

    It’s really that simple.

    But that makes me a troll I guess.

  • 28 Kylek // Mar 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    No, Sam — you are a troll because you intentionally use just about every logical fallacy in your arguments just to be an ass. You are combining straw man and ad-hominen in that last post one. You say so many incorrect things I won’t bother correcting you other than to note that I personally voted for districts.

    You are bad at math because you don’t get that there are actual people living in all those apartments and townhouses you rail against so gleefully — guess what they think about your opinions.

  • 29 john // Mar 11, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    sam and kylek need to grow up or go to another blog!

  • 30 Sam // Mar 11, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Once we get district council members, you’ll get to see what democracy really is, not your developer funded city council.

    Urbanism/density is little more than gentrification tarted up as ‘environmentalism’. Just ask the good folks at Lockhaven .

  • 31 kelly // Mar 11, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    I think it’s funny when the person who got their first has a problem with the person who is getting their second. We see this on Bainbridge Island where the Islanders want to stop “further” development when they had no problem with the development that they did to the chagrin of those who were there before them. My suggestion? Brick up the windows so you don’t have to stare out at hardy plank siding and put in one of those cool fake fireplaces or sell before construction begins and move to a five acre plat in the country.

  • 32 just sayin... // Mar 12, 2014 at 10:46 am

    The challenge here is that the discussion isn’t truly about density, its about profit. There are plenty of streets in ballard that are a mix of single / Mutli-family housing that can stand to have additional thoughtful development as rundown SFH’s are replaced by multi-family structures.

    However, on way too many streets in ballard people are cashing out – listing their homes for sale while simultaneously selling their back yards & side lots, and developers are introducing 4-packs, flag lots or rowhouses – not because its responsible for the neighborhood, but because they make more profit selling 4 houses than one.

    Ballard is desirable because of the people, heritage, location and charm. As an 8 year ballard resident – all of that matters to me. Developers couldn’t care less…as soon as the sold sign goes up, they cash the check and move on to the next quick buck.

  • 33 Kylek // Mar 12, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Here is a zoning map of Seattle — I think it’s really helpful information for people who are confused about why things like townhouses and rowhouses are being built in this area. It was zoned about 20 years ago to be one of the only parts of Seattle where more density could be built. A huge percentage of Seattle is zoned for Single Family Houses only. http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Research/gis/webplots/smallzonemap.pdf

  • 34 Sam // Mar 12, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    @33 Well that’s why we wanted and won district elections, so we can fight back against your friends, the green washing developers, intent on driving folks out of their communities.

    : )

  • 35 Sam // Mar 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Urbanism + density = gentrification.

  • 36 Shilshole Crabber // Mar 12, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    KyleK – thanks for the zoning map. I knew the general parameters but this lays it out. I’m an advocate for smart density but don’t have much trust in the city’s review process or their relationships with developers. I suspect few Ballard residents knew what an urban village was when Mayor Rice made them one.

  • 37 Kylek // Mar 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Shilshole Crabber: I’m (obviously) very pro density, but I agree – people probably had no idea what it meant. I see people here treating each new building like its a new battle and I read that as confusion. I tend to disagree about statements that cast the city in some evil quid-pro-quo with developers. The city decided to move towards more in-city development for a lot of very good reasons: Environment / co-locating people with jobs / reversing decades of sprawl patterns. That neighborhood is already a huge (65%?) way towards filling the zoning form — so it makes a whole lot of sense to favor good urban zoning. It’s hasn’t really been a predominantly single family neighborhood for a while.

  • 38 Shilshole Crabber // Mar 14, 2014 at 11:31 am

    KyleK –

    My business overlaps with commercial development so I’m familiar enough with the system. A healthy dose of skepticism is needed. Given the development fees generated for the city by real estate the developer/city relationship is not always an arms length one. The city’s DPD management has its own agenda and, as often as not, the city has bigger fish to fry than a satellite neighborhood like Ballard. It’s not evil – it just is.

    In general, I like the density and vibrancy of downtown Ballard, so I guess I’m sipping some of the Kool-aid. One concern I have is regarding the assumption that parking can be sacrificed even though we’re decades from a real mass transit system to Ballad (I know as I take the bus). This works for a close in neighborhood like Capital Hill – not for a Ballard – though the city makes little distinction between the two.

    I see loopholes that allow minimal design review on a number of projects including apodments. This concerns me as apodments have the potential to be become tomorrow’s slums if not managed properly or if the supply balloons.

    I also see the city continuing to look to up-zone areas and chip away at the single family zones. The map you referenced could easily change in 5 to 10 years.

    My hope is that we’ll get a bigger voice on the council with district voting for reps. In the past I feel like neighborhood needs have been swept under the carpet.

  • 39 Kylek // Mar 14, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Shilshole Crabber,

    I definitely like the idea of Ballard having a more direct voice on the council — which is why I voted yes on the districts.

    I agree that better transit is needed (I’m one of the founders of the advocacy organization Seattle Subway) – Ballard does have a lot of transit. Could it be better? Absolutely. But there is capacity and frequency now for the most common trip pairs. Not ideal, but definitely “real.” Related note: Vote yes on 4/22 so that doesn’t change. :)

    That said: Parking concerns in Ballard are really overblown. Most of the parking issues are being caused by how many people come to Ballard as an entertainment district — not by new buildings. We have forced buildings to be over-parked which hurts afford-ability (recent study found 37% of spots are empty http://www.sightline.org/research/who-pays-for-parking/ and cost every resident – not just those who use parking – an average of $246/month.)

    I agree that we need solid rules on apodments – but in general design review is a disaster. Apodments exist as a thing because of design review. And can we really point at all of the great outcomes that process has brought us? Collectively, the city needs to be in the business of deciding maximum forms and minimum standards, not engaging in the kind of design by zoning that has ruled the way buildings look around here. This article is about the conflict that comes from stepping away from that.

    Re: Upzones. Nothing in Ballard has been upzoned in a really long time. This article is ultimately about rule tweaks. I think a comprehensive plan that takes future light rail stations into account is the ideal way to go. 85th/15th area at some point? Designing density around walkablity and accessibility is the way to go.

    All that is a long way off though. What I’ve seen the most of here is re-arguing the past up zone ad nauseam. It would be nice if we could (collectively) have a more rational and less reactionary look at these issues.

    Anyways — good chat — I’m thankful Ballard has the good kind of problems, having this conversation about our problems in Detroit would be a drag.

  • 40 Eileen // Mar 16, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    If you want close neighbors, LIVE DOWNTOWN!
    Ballard has at least 3 primary schools, 1 secondary and one high school. Leave Ballard for families with children who can walk to their neighborhood school. Since I moved into Ballard, eleven new houses have been built on subdivided lots on my street. These expensive homes were not sold to people with children.

  • 41 Kylek // Mar 21, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Eileen: Urban lowrise zoning is not “downtown” zoning. Row houses are common in mid density neighborhoods in cities around the world. There is a lot of single family zoning in Ballard as well — I posted the zoning in an earlier comment.
    Regarding kids, I think your sample might not be representative. Ballard is going through such a child boom that we’re having to re-draw the elementary boundaries to compensate.

  • 42 Dawn // Apr 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

    We have a four pack going in next door where a cute 100+ year old farmhouse used to be. We can soon look forward to neighbors staring down into our yard and in our windows from thier mega window-walls.

    Personally I am not against building or adding density, I understand the need for this and support it from a city-growth pov. However, the city council should have an obligation to make sure that the growth is sustainable and will keep the communities where it is taking place good places to live.

    A huge problem is parking. These structures are built with ridiculously small driveways and 1 car garages. The homeowners park thier cars on the street. So you are going from a single family home that had off street parking to 4 single family homes with unrealistic parking. That is most likely 6-8 cars on the street if couples are living in the residence. We have 4 new 4 packs scheduled to go up on our block. This is going to affect our ability to park in front of our own houses or have guests visit. These other mega units going up, like the one on NW 64th and 24th NW, don’t provide adequate parking for the planned residential units. The streets and transportation options are going to need a major upgrade. In a time where the city is threatening to cut tons of Metro routes, this is ridiculous. We already have problems for the businesses in downtown Ballard because people can’t park there on a weekday. Forget it on the weekends.

    The entire infrastructure of the community needs to be considered.

    To those that are saying “you should shut up and move” to the people on this thread. Shame on you. We shouldn’t be forced out of our hard earned homes because the city is turning a blind eye and over developing an area. This can work for everyone. We don’t have to authorize 4 units, we could say “2 tall units, with YARDS, off street parking and room between the other homes on the property line”. We should be requiring trees.

    For everyone claiming that this will make the neighborhood available to lower income/middle class families so they don’t have to move farther out – have you seen the price tags on these units? You can’t afford it and neither can I. Townhouses aren’t solving this problem.

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