Limback Lumber, around since 1930, has until recently played neighbor to other iconic Ballard businesses. Now a towering seven-story apartment complex is sidling up next to the old business.
Where old and new Ballard collide: Market St and 24th
Big apartment development offers study in contrast
Ballard is changing. Just ask Steve Hunsinger, whose family has owned Limback Lumber since 1930.
He remembered when the fishing industry was booming; when Ballard was a quiet, peaceful place to live; and when AMLI's gigantic seven-story, 309-unit apartment building under construction next to the lumberyard on Market St and 24th was Jacobsen’s Marine and Archie McPhee’s.
Looking over at the construction, Hunsinger was both rueful and understanding.
“It’s really too bad. I’ve been here for 36 years,” he said. “Obviously, Ballard’s becoming quite the place to live. It’s a great community: you got the nightlife, you got the water, you can get to Seattle easy; pretty peaceful. It’s amazing, really.”
The apartment building, which was approved March 29 of 2011, is set to open in the summer of 2014. Along with the AVA Apartments, at the site of the old Sunset Bowling Alley on the east side of 15th Ave NW (as well as other projects), it will effectively bookend downtown Ballard with high-rise apartments.
Developers, rather than believing they are purposefully destroying old neighborhood charm and character, believe they are making way for the future. For Senior Development Associate Matt Elley of AMLI Residential, creating apartment buildings where more people can live in the same spot together is a matter of densifying the city, which he sees as not only important, but necessary.
“If we don’t densify and start creating a system that allows us to not use a car, I think we’ll start to suffer from that,” he said.
Elley has written papers on peak oil, or the limitations to oil resources and how long -- or not long -- they will last. By creating denser neighborhoods, creating a more walkable environment and allowing people to instead rely on transit, bicycling and other methods of travel alternative to driving, Elley thinks that Americans can avoid a major resource catastrophe.
Naturally, he said people are going to be against density and more people flooding into the neighborhood. He said that parking and traffic were legitimate concerns. But, at the same time, he said density and more people are all part of the process of a developing area.
“We’re going to have to accept that. It’s part of the way the city grows,” he said.
Elley said there are many benefits to more people coming into the neighborhood. More people means more demand for amenities such as retail and restaurants. “It could increase the quality of life for people living there,” he said. “… I think the greater good of the region is to develop more density within the neighborhood and create walkable environments.”
At the same time, with so many other apartment, condominium and townhouse projects being built at the same time, he said he was aware of an inherent risk. “Each one of us is developing in that area, you know we’re taking on a risk. Really, we’re the ones who will experience loss should we have a hard time filling up our units.”
Still, he believes Ballard is a good, healthy, working neighborhood which has a demand for more housing. And, he said, more competition and more supply could in the end mean more affordable housing.
The businesses and buildings around the development project provides for a study in contrast. Pinching the building on either end are small, family-owned businesses, harkening to an older, more classic Ballard. In addition to Limback, there’s decades-old Ballard Mailbox on the west side and Market Street Spirit Service on the east side.
Back in August, Ballard News-Tribune columnist Peggy Sturdivant interviewed Mailbox Manager Nicole Witham, who had worked at the Mailbox when she was in junior high and whose mom bought the place in 2008. “We’re not going anywhere,” she had said. “There’s no walking away from a business with this kind of a client base. It’s a simple business model but it fills a huge niche.”
Of course, the Mailbox did have a couple hiccups because of the construction. A wall that it shared with the old, now-demolished building had to be knocked out and replaced. But she and developers were able to work that out, with the developers paying for repairs, materials and labor.
There’s a similar story at Spirit. Owner and mechanic Harold Hezel is a Ballard High School grad who is perhaps one of the most trusted mechanics in the city, at least among neighborhood locals. An employee said that developers tried to force them out, but they fought back and are here to stay.
There are concerns, from both citizens and business owners, about what extra people might do to the neighborhood. Many worry about increased traffic and trouble finding parking in a neighborhood where it’s already hard to find parking. (Anyone who tries to participate in Ballard Ave's lively nightlife knows this.)
At least for AMLI’s Market St project, more than enough parking is provided. For 309 units, space for 415 vehicles to park is provided in a below grade parking garage. Other big project developments,
Other developers, typically for smaller projects such as townhouses and a possible new aPodment building, don't offer parking.
Hunsinger from Limback Lumber, who is generally understanding of if not entirely happy with the high-rise apartments, said he did hope developers’ optimism regarding transit did pay out.
“It’d be great if people don’t have cars. That’s kind of the idea. If people do that it works.” But, at the same time, he said, “The American way is everyone has to drive.”
In the end, though Hunsinger realizes that change is inevitable, he said he wants to preserve the industrial corridor, the character of the neighborhood and, most of all, the community feeling of the area.
“Ballard … it’s unique. Keep it safe; clean,” he said.
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