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Seattle Council Elections, District 6: Pace Of Development Troubles Ballard Residents

If you think Seattle’s already struggling with growth, imagine adding another 120,000 people. That’s the jump in population the city expects over the next two decades.

But where do you put those folks?

People in neighborhoods such as Ballard say there’s already too much construction.

Just ask Linda Melvin and Rebecca Todd, who recently gave a tour of their Ballard neighborhood to show the pace of change.

They’ve become good detectives at figuring out when a house is about to get demolished. Melvin stopped to point out some poles outside a small bungalow on NW 60th St. near 17th Ave. NW.

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
Linda Melvin (left) and Rebecca Todd give a tour of their neighborhood, pointing out all the new construction underway in their corner of Ballard

“That’s the first sign we sometimes get is when that tripod goes up with the temporary electrical service,” Melvin said.

“When that goes up, the bulldozers come within a couple of weeks,” Todd said.

Towering Townhomes

Melvin and Todd live one block away from each other, each in a newish townhome.

Theirs have yards and are set back from the sidewalk and neighboring lots.  What they object to are the newer townhouses that are much taller and go right up to the property line. 

But Ballard is designated for growth as one of Seattle’s six hub urban villages, chosen for its proximity to transit and retail.

Melvin said she likes the idea – in concept.

“I moved to Ballard six years ago because I believe in density – at the same time I sold my car, I downsized from a 2,500-square-foot home to about a 1,500-square-foot townhome,” she said.

Credit Google Maps

Melvin said the problem is that development is proceeding unchecked. Almost 3,000 units have been added in the past decade. City leaders had expected 1,000.

Disappearing Privacy

Todd moved here in 2010 from Alabama to be near her daughter and granddaughter. She said she was caught by surprise at how quickly older homes are getting razed to make way for new development.

In her backyard, she’s growing dahlias and lilies and even a small fig tree. But since new townhomes went up behind her, it’s not the oasis she was imagining.

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
"I never thought I'd have totally no privacy, and I don't have any privacy," Todd said.

“I have a daughter in Brooklyn. I could have gone to live near her,” Todd said. “But I never thought I’d have totally no privacy, and I don’t have any privacy.”

As one of the newcomers to Ballard, Mike Jasklowski has a different perspective.

Less than two months ago, he and his girlfriend moved into their brand-new three-story modern, angular home after getting fed up with renting on Capitol Hill.

A Newcomer's Perspective

“With the current housing boom and the rise in prices, we decided that it’s probably a good time to start owning instead of renting as people are getting squeezed out a little bit based on the high rents,” he said.

He gave a tour and pointed out features that include an atrium to bring in light as well as a roof deck with views of Mt. Rainier and the Olympics on a clear day.

Jasklowski’s place is part of a four-unit rowhouse development that’s only a few feet away from the single family homes on either side. He says he can understand why some people are upset.

“I think that visually these kind of old school homes and this old school area looks a lot more appealing than these cookie cutter homes that they’re building and I think that anyone who’s not telling you that would probably be lying,” he said.

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
Jasklowski and his girlfriend recently bought one of the new units in this rowhouse development (pictured on the right)

He said even though he thinks the newer homes like his aren’t as aesthetically pleasing, he and his girlfriend wanted a new home they wouldn’t have to spend a lot to remodel, in an area with good schools in case they have kids further down the road.

`Racing Against Everybody Else'

Plus, they felt pressure to act quickly.

“We were racing against everybody else to make sure that we could find a home at a reasonable price and have long-term stability in the area,” Jasklowski said.

They wanted a place not far from his girlfriend’s job at Amazon, and somewhere in walking distance from restaurants so they could grab nachos after work.

Jasklowski says development is the natural consequence of a booming economy. He says he’s paying attention to the city council race but says zoning and development are not his top issues.

Credit Ashley Gross / KPLU
Jasklowski on his roof deck

Ballot Box Choices

But for Linda Melvin, those themes are top of mind as she chooses among the District 6 candidates, as well as for the two at-large seats.

“If we get some people in there, four or five people who are really talking to the neighborhoods, we might see some difference,” Melvin said.

She says she’s glad the city switched to district representation, but she’s trying to be pragmatic after unsuccessfully pushing for some zoning code changes.

“I’m not getting my hopes up too high because I don’t want to be disappointed again,” she said.

What Melvin would like is for city leaders to hear the concerns of Ballard residents about the transformation of their neighborhood.

Additional District 6 facts:

-- District 6 is, by a fair margin, Seattle's whitest council district at 83 percent, compared to the city at 70 percent. 

-- It is one of the most educated district with nearly three of every five residents holding a bachelor's degree.

-- Nearly 40 percent of the residents have never been married.

-- It is among the most liberal districts in the city. 

Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey 2013 and City of Seattle.

Registered candidates for the 2015 District 6 primary:

Jon Lisbin,

Michael J. O'Brien,

Stan Shaufler,

Catherine Weatbrook,

Other links: Meet the Districts;

The Seattle Times: district map and information.

About this series:

KPLU is exploring an issue central to each of the seven new districts in the upcoming city council primary election. Last Monday, we explored South Park in District 1 and residents' concerns about crime. On the following Tuesday, we were in District 2 at the Othello light rail station, where residents wait for as-of-yet undelivered new commerce. Then on Wednesday, we went into District 3 and  the Central District where locals fears gentrification is changing the neighborhood for the worse. The next day, Thursday, we went to District 4 where we talked with group of neighbors who were able to limit a developer’s proposalto build five townhomes on a lot currently containing a classic single-family home. On Friday, we discovered why walking is a little riskier in in far-north District 5 than in other parts of town. Yesterday, we heard from District 6 where Ballard residents are concerned about the breakneck pace of development.We wrapped up primary election district coverage with District 7, where an apartment building on Queen Anne's Roy Streethas traditionally has been home to service-industry employees. But now residents there are wondering how much longer can they afford to live in the neighborhood.


In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.