Photo by Peggy Sturdivant

Op-Ed: Owner of Ballard Carnegie Library 'Helpless in Seattle'

By Karoline Morrison, owner of the Old Ballard Carnegie Library building

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, I learned how vulnerable owners of buildings in Seattle can be to well-meaning individuals.

They have the power to "preserve" a privately owned building which, by their nomination, can designate any structure of their choice to become a "historic landmark." Their intentions may be noble, but the effect on the property owner can be disastrous. Acquiring "landmark" status can result in a decrease in property value and be detrimental to building tenants trying to run a business.

My building, the Old Ballard Carnegie Library, was nominated by one individual and approved by a group of people from the Historic Landmark Board. Late on that Wednesday evening, after a long, drawn out slideshow presentation, a few Ballardites spoke up about their affection for the building. It was nice, but it had nothing to do with the process. I made my plea for the Landmark Board to let me continue my forty-eight years of caring for the property. The Ballard Historic Committee praised me for this, but my plea seemed to go unheard.

I was criticized for letting the "sandstone" facade of the balcony be repainted. The facade is metal, not sandstone. No sandstone or brick was touched. A criticism was made about the fencing of one side of the lawn to provide for a legal beer garden. A Board member commented that the interior had been greatly changed -- even though I have done nothing that could not be changed back. (i.e. the shelves and the old radiators are stored, and partitions and paint on the woodwork can be removed.)I was criticized for allowing the ground floor windows to be replaced with more efficient ones even though the city recommends them.

I have given forty-eight years of my life to protect and maintain my building, which was once described in the 1960's by a local newspaper as the "eyesore of Ballard." I'm proud of the way I have saved and cared for this building for Seattle, a city which did not care.

In the future it will be necessary for me to seek approval from the Board for any changes to the grounds and building exterior. All of this affects not only me but my tenants and their customers as well. I will lose control of my property due to the actions of one individual and a few Board members who don't care about people like me.

The finalizing of this designation will be given this week. However I have been told that the approval of the Historic Landmark Board is a done deal. So much for civil rights in Seattle.

The landmark designation meeting will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 7, and is open to the public. It will take place at the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave, 40th Floor, Rm. 4050/60.

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