Ballard changing faster than planned, residents say

Ten years after the city’s neighborhood plans were published, residents have been asked to help create a “status check” on how well the 20-year plans are progressing — and whether they need an update. Thursday evening a group of Ballard and Crown Hill residents gathered around a table at the Phinney Center to provide the city with feedback on the draft copy of the status report (.pdf).

“(Ballard) is a totally different place than it was ten years ago,” said Craig Benjamin, explaining that he’s disappointed that the city’s draft status report fails to adequately explain the dramatic change in the neighborhood. “When the basis of a plan changes so dramatically, you need to reevaluate where you’re going,” added Peter Locke. Others agreed that the neighborhood’s transformation from a “sleepy fishing village” to a high-density community has introduced new priorities around affordable housing (“Ballard just isn’t affordable”), transportation (“Metro buses are packed”), safety and other city services. Another added that “Crown Hill is the red-headed stepchild” when compared to Ballard’s neighborhood improvements. Representatives from the Seattle Planning Commission and the Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee took notes as neighbors provided their feedback.

The report reviewed the plan’s original strategies: 1) create a Ballard municipal center with a park, library and service center 2) extend the Burke-Gilman trail through Ballard 3) acquire Crown Hill school and develop the facility into a community sports field complex and 4) establish a location for a commuter rail station. As the report explained, the first is complete and the next two are underway, but a light rail station is currently not planned for the neighborhood. Several residents suggested that the city make the neighborhood plans more flexible to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

If you were unable to attend the meeting, you can fill out an online survey with your thoughts about the neighborhood and the status report. In October, the city will hold public meetings to review the updated status reports, and then they’ll be presented to the mayor and the city council to consider.

Backyard cottages may soon be allowed in Ballard

Backyard cottages, which have been called mother-in-law units with more breathing room, could be a new housing option for Ballard. Currently, southeast Seattle is the only area allowed to have them, but in March of this year the Mayor proposed allowing backyard cottages throughout the entire city.

At Wednesday’s Ballard District Council meeting, Andrea Petzel with the City Department of Planning & Development presented the idea to the packed room. She explained that a lot will need to be at least 4,000 square feet and the main house and cottage cannot take up more than 35 percent of the lot. Cottages cannot be more than 800 square feet and must comply with the 5 foot setback rule. The cottage on the left is 800 square feet and cost almost $150,000 to construct.The cottage pictured on the right is 437 square feet and cost nearly $50,000 to build. Petzel says that if the Mayor’s plan passes, there will be a limit of 50 permits given each year to build cottages. There will be upcoming meetings to discuss the backyard cottage proposal. You can get on the mailing list and learn more about the idea here. Petzel says that the city council could vote as early as September.

Group hopes to build affordable green housing

Although home prices around Seattle are on the decline, many families still can’t afford to own a home. Home for Good, a non-profit organization, is hoping to build affordable housing at several locations around the city, including several in Ballard. At this month’s Ballard District Council meeting, Melanie Gillespie, the executive director, told the group about “The Urban Gardens Project,” a new project that will help those making below the area median income (AMI) to own their own home.

The first location is at 63rd just west of 15th. The plans call for 21 to 25 new units in a development that’s a mix of apartments, businesses and older single family homes. The proposed units will be priced for a variety of incomes with the majority at or below 80 percent AMI. The project will be built green and incorporate a community gardening space and a rooftop garden with panoramic views. Home for Good is presenting their plans to the Design Review Board next Monday at Ballard High School. This is the same night that Rhapsody Partners will present their plans for the former Denny’s location.

One woman’s effort to recycle a house

Now that the city owns the plot of land formerly owned by Love Israel on 9th Ave. — now Ballard’s newest park — Margaret Todd wants to save the house on the property. But saving it isn’t cheap. Moving costs are estimated at $45,000, and that doesn’t count a new foundation. “The house can only really be moved 10 blocks to a mile,” Todd told the Ballard News Tribune. “After that the cost to have the house moved would not be worth it.” So Todd is looking for an affordable plot of land nearby, which as Ballard residents know, is a tall order even in today’s softening economy.

Home sizes, affordable housing debated

Lots of housing-related news came out of yesterday’s city council meeting, which we understand was well-attended by Ballard residents. The first is a proposal to limit home sizes in residential areas. You know, those three-story homes that devour nearly every square inch of the lot, towering over the rest of the neighborhood and blocking the sun. The proposal is to limit them to 4,350 square feet for lot sizes less than 5,000 square feet.

The council also looked at a new measure — which passed 8 to 0 — that would require developers to pay substantially more in moving expenses for lower-income renters. But the most controversial item on the agenda was extending the affordable housing tax break for developers to new neighborhoods, including Ballard. Explains the PI, “The measure would grant a tax break to developers who make at least 20 percent of their units affordable for 12 years to those earning about the local median income.” Some Ballardites at the meeting expressed concern that this may fuel even more development. The measure passed 7-1 and goes to the mayor, who is expected to sign it.

Ballard housing growth off the charts

In just three years and three months, Ballard has skyrocketed 174 percent of its 20-year housing growth target — the most of any of Seattle’s 38 urban villages, reports the Seattle Times. In 2004, planners set a target of 1,000 new housing units in Ballard by 2024. Today, there are 1,739 new units — 287 finished and 1,452 permitted but unfinished units, many nearly ready for occupancy. “The demand for services is not going down and we don’t seem to have the structure in place to respond,” said Catherine Weatbrook, who works on the Ballard District Council. “Growth is going to happen. We can plan for it — or we can have chaos.” Meanwhile, Fremont has reached 62 percent of its 20-year target with 312 new units, and Phinney-Greenwood is at 44 percent with 175 new units. You can look up other Seattle neighborhoods on this Google map.