Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Bill Parks always gets to know the community where he builds.

At Large in Ballard: The Builder

Years ago I saw changes in Ballard in black-and-white terms. Development = bad. Original single-family residences = good. I was young. I was foolish. I was short-sighted.

Over the last few years I have watched William Parks, better known as Bill, take his slow, sweet time in developing projects on two sites in Ballard. I have been to all the different meetings and have seen him in coffee shops chatting with anyone in each neighborhood who wanted to meet him. He’s rented the Sunset Hill Community Club in order to host informational meetings that he was under no requirement to have. I’ve watched him listen to audiences and answer questions, sharing what he’s thinking and admitting what he doesn’t know.

In advance of the Jan. 28 Design Review meeting on the second phase of what’s called Ballard Lofts to be built at the southeast corner of 24th Ave NW and NW 65 St, Bill Parks and I met for coffee. He now knows I have a vested interest; one of his proposed buildings, in the building that houses Sunset Hill Green Market, will be near where I live. Ballard Lofts, scheduled to break ground first, is known around Ballard as the apartment building that will encompass the block where The Viking Tavern has been doing business since 1950 (they still sell eggs too).

Parks had a question for me. “Have you met with other developers?” I admitted it’s only smaller developers who will meet; large developers have a spokesperson. I still think about meeting with the man who built Danielle over on 24th Ave NW and how I had to accept no one was going to fix up the old house on the corner where the chain link fence had been collecting trash. He told me he wanted to build something high quality; when he did I had to stop stereotyping “developers.”

Parks has already been working on this project for five years, although its scope has grown to include the east side of 24th down to 64th NW since acquiring those properties last April. He has met neighbors at The Viking and seen firsthand the community that exists there. “They really care about one another,” he said. He met with the owners and the employees of The Viking and got all their emails. Their lease currently runs through the end of April and on the table is extending it and having The Viking be part of the new construction.

No one talks about how they will miss the auto repair shop, just the barber and The Viking. The December public meeting revealed those who won’t miss The Viking’s evening clientele versus those who bemoan the loss of such an unpretentious neighborhood watering hole and gathering spot. Others shared their concerns about parking problems and added traffic.

I asked Parks what he thinks of being labeled the developer. “I just like buildings,” he said, “and having some creativity by working for myself. I perceive myself as a builder.” He started in construction as a laborer and gradually worked his way through community college and then the Construction Management program at the University of Washington. Once in a position to do his own projects, he has almost always worked with Johnston Architects and their projects have won awards: townhouses near Green Lake and buildings in Fremont and White Center. Ballard Lofts will be his first apartment building and one that he hopes will attract long-term residents. Of their buildings, “We treat them as art projects.”

Since hosting the public meeting in December about Ballard Lofts, he commissioned another traffic study because of public concerns about parking and effects on traffic flow, particularly in regard to the 79-car garage entrance on NW 65th St, which has an exit on NW 64th St. “I try to filter what I hear,” he said, “and determine what is the piece I can consider so that I’m not just defending my position.” Based on earlier feedback from public and the City, the project has already been scaled down from 97 apartments to 72, with retail at street level, two floors of loft-type spaces and two floors of two-bedroom apartments.

Parks says he ‘gets it’ on parking concerns. He gets frustrated in his neighborhood with those from a nearby apartment who park in what he’d like to consider an entitled spot in front of his house. But he also knows that the city will keep growing and he cannot overcome every problem that is part of Seattle’s infrastructure. “But I work so hard to get along with everyone,” he said ruefully. In reflecting on his role as builder/developer of an apartment building, he said, “You’re going to be challenged. Not everybody is going to like you.” His silence between phrases spoke to his patience and sincere desire to do right by the community while including as many viewpoints as possible. “I can’t deliver the best product without collaboration,” he concluded.

What I have heard Parks say at every meeting particularly struck me in person. “I will always listen.”

So we can complain about development in Ballard, overlooking City of Seattle decisions made years ago regarding zoning and urban villages. We can complain about certain developments that banks approve because the number of “door units” to be built make a viable financial investment without regard for what they add to the community. But we shouldn’t paint all developers or developments with the same brush stroke. In between the ugly, and at best forgettable, optimizations of square footage look out for some quality projects -- even if we still wish that block wasn’t zoned for six floors. There can be thoughtful projects, too, so look out for Bill the Builder. If you will listen to him, he will always listen to you.

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