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Friday, December 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ballard hopes its old spirit can endure condo onslaught

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle neighborhoods have a tendency to kick and scream over changes brought about by growth.

Not so in Ballard, where skies these days are bursting with cranes of the non-fowl variety.

Within a square mile of the main shopping area, nine condo or apartment buildings and a hotel are under construction or in the early planning stages.

Neighborhood leaders, who could be hunkering down, instead have chosen to look forward. While resolute about maintaining community character, they are equally adamant about making the best of these staggering truths:

• Since 2001, more than 450 new condominium or apartment homes have been built in and around Ballard's downtown core.

• Over the next two or three years, another 1,000 or so will open.

• The city recently sold two surplus library parcels to developers who plan to build even more multifamily housing.

• A 175-room hotel also is in the works.

Some of the new buildings are going up nearly cheek-to-cheek.

The Metropole and NoMa (for North of Market Street), two condo projects totaling 120 units, face each other across 24th Avenue Northwest at Northwest 56th Street. A block north, the razing of a QFC will result in a new store with 270 apartments above it. Across the street from that is the old Ballard branch library parcel, which the city sold to a developer last week for $3.15 million.

This is not Jody Grage Haug's idea of an ideal Ballard. The 69-year-old bought a Ballard house in 1975 for $21,750, and now her turn-of-the-20th-century classic stands within earshot of all the construction on 24th. She lives in 400 square feet of the home and rents out the rest.

"If moaning did much good, I'd do more of it, but experience teaches me that it doesn't," said Haug, planning-committee chair for the Ballard District Council, a neighborhood advocacy group.

"I am fond of the saying, 'Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.' This is happening. We can spend all of our energies resisting it, or we can say, 'OK, what do we do now to make it work to our benefit?' "

As Ballard absorbs thousands of new neighbors, Haug said it must make them feel welcome and invested in the neighborhood so that community spirit won't fade. She suggests having a welcome-wagon service, community parties every month to greet new residents and bulletin boards in the lobby of each new building to promote community businesses, events and volunteer opportunities.

"We have to include renters and condo owners within our definition of community," she said. "They have rights. But they also have responsibilities, and that responsibility is to not close their doors and pretend like the community around them doesn't exist. Will these people view where they are living as a locked-in enclave or part of a neighborhood?"

Legh Burns and his wife, Maggie, own Re-Soul, a shop on historic Ballard Avenue Northwest that promotes itself as selling "distinctive footwear and modern accessories for the urban individual." The arrival of newcomers cuts both ways for his business, Burns said.

"Everyone moving into the neighborhood wears shoes, and I hope they'll buy the ones I sell," he said.

"But I worry that this new, younger generation won't care about the community or respect its heritage. I worry that they might be people who have done their shopping their whole lives at malls and they won't understand why we don't have a Pottery Barn in Ballard — and why we shouldn't."

Ballard merchants have worked hard to create a viable shopping district of small, homegrown shops, said Mary Hurley, district council president and owner of Best Regards, a card and gift shop on Northwest Market Street.

"Our clientele has changed, particularly over the last five or six years," Hurley said. "John Keister's old characterization of the Ballardite driving the Ford Falcon with the seat belt stuck in the door is no more. We've come a long way."

Several challenges do face downtown Ballard, however, including how to manage increased traffic and greater demands on parking. The city is now replacing Ballard's parking meters with pay stations and, as part of the change, will convert into paid parking 67 spaces along the street that have been free. Merchants plan to monitor the impacts closely, Hurley said.

Neighborhood leaders say they've understood that increased density was coming, like it or not, and thus far that development is at peace with plans they had mapped out for Ballard's future. Their goal was to cluster multifamily housing around the marketplace of Market Street, thus creating a lively and livable downtown, but not to let it leach onto residential streets.

"In many ways, it is what Ballard asked for," said Andy MacDonald, a district council member. "On a Friday or Saturday night, the restaurants are full and people are walking around downtown. It has become a very exciting place to be, urban and upbeat — and that's very different for Ballard."

But urban and upbeat are not to everyone's taste in Ballard — especially those whose families have lived in the neighborhood for generations.

One new development features 144 housing units specifically for able-bodied seniors. Haug said she would like even more multifamily housing available for longtime Ballard residents who are recently widowed and looking to leverage the value of their homes into a simplified, safe and comfortable living situation.

"We shouldn't force them out; we should give them options," Haug said. "What I envision is a college dorm for little ol' ladies. We'd have a ball! You could have knitters together on one floor."

Evelyn McCants, 78, is recently widowed and still lives in the same house she and her husband built in Ballard's Olympic Manor subdivision 45 years ago. While checking on the status of her car tabs at Ballard's auto-licensing office the other day, she became curious after walking past NoMa's "presentation center," a colorful storefront marketing its condos for presale.

"I lost my husband three years ago, so I will be looking, too, for somewhere to live," McCants said. "And I will be staying in Ballard. The people are friendly here. It's just home.

"But truth be told, there is not as much here for me anymore. A lot of the charm is gone. The Eagles [fraternal club], I used to go there all the time with my husband. That's gone, too."

McCants didn't know it, but NoMa is being built on the same land where the former Ballard Eagles clubhouse stood. And she would be pleased to know that the Eagles plan to move their club to the ground floor of the new building when it is done.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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