Peggy Sturdivant
The new view from the kitchen. Photo by Lauren Ziemski

At Large In Ballard: Crows Don’t Sing

By Peggy Sturdivant

Lauren Ziemski and Stan Rawrysz have known each other since high school back in New Jersey. They’ve been in the Northwest 20 years and loved their Ballard apartment the minute they walked in. It had corner windows facing northwest and the privacy of trees outside the kitchen window to the southeast.

They had been a couple for a long time but waited until they felt emotionally and financially ready to become parents. They sometimes looked at houses, but thin back on only one unmade offer with regret. Mostly they enjoyed living within walking distance of downtown Ballard, socializing with neighbors in other 4-plexes and duplexes of an area zoned multi-family, low-rise.

They woke to bird song and the sound of children playing across the street after school. There was storage for Lauren’s vintage typewriter collection and estate sale finds.

Their daughter Julianna Pearl Ziemski-Rawrysz was born in that apartment, a home birth by choice, in an apartment that had become home. She’ll be two in September. She’s grown up watching the birds just outside her play area near the southeast window.

Waiting to start a family wasn’t a problem; but buying a home in Seattle may be impossible.

The block has lost most of its charm. Except for the crows there are no more birds on that street in Ballard. The Ziemski Rawrysz family lives in one of the remaining older apartment buildings in the epicenter of increased density in the Ballard core. There have been six teardowns since they arrived, with each parcel then subdivided and the new construction maximizing height and lot limits. The rationale is that increased density will create affordability. The opposite seems true.

Either their neighbors have had their rents raised beyond their means or learned their apartment building was going to be demolished. Just a few months ago their next-door neighbors learned inadvertently their building had been sold and would be a teardown. They too were a couple raising a child in the livable, “walkable” Ballard area.

Greenbuild LLC has just completed a similar project at 2024 NW 62nd, constructing three three-story single-family townhouses. They specialize in “high end” and “luxury spec” projects. The first of three similar single-family townhouses on NW 62nd just sold for over $800,00.

The new Greenbuild project next to Stan and Lauren has not had an auspicious beginning. The trees went away quickly, the cut vegetation banked around the sidewalk, like a duck blind. Lauren and Stan knew the demolition was imminent when they saw trucks with trailers parked next door, and in front of their driveway, day and night. One truck sideswiped a parked car on the street and Stan talked to the drive and passenger, had the sense to photograph their license plate. “We’re checking for asbestos,” the driver volunteered, although Stan hadn’t asked.

There were noises at night, another truck and trailer blocking their driveway, but Stan and the baby were mercifully asleep through the sound of saws through drywall and metal. It was 11:30 p.m. then 1:30 a.m. Lauren tried to find the builder’s number on signboard next door but it had been tossed into the bushes. She called the police non-emergency number and they told her to call 9-1-1. The dispatcher said that all officers were busy with a robbery. When she was able to get a response from someone in the builder’s office the next day they denied having any workers onsite. Lauren filed a complaint on the city’s website realizing belatedly that she had no recourse. The vacant building was an orphan, and a sitting duck.

What are the rights of neighbors with regard to vacant buildings, the construction process, and its resulting changes? Does everyone need to become an expert in the noise ordinance? Shouldn’t developers need to secure properties before demolition and inform the neighbors of the construction timeline? How is a neighbor supposed to know if a property is being vandalized (in this case copper probably being stolen) or work is being done without a permit? Does the developer care if the interior was salvaged by night or is it easier job for the backhoe? So was there asbestos, or did anyone really check before the dust starting flying and Lauren had to shut all the windows?

Lauren and Stan have made offers on houses recently but lost to those offering $40-50,000 higher. They can’t afford to buy without leaving Seattle entirely, but when they look at what’s coming, they wonder if they can afford to stay. Eight people used to be able to live affordably next door. Even if eight new neighbors move in a down payment of $156,000 and $3,000/month mortgage is not the definition of affordable. No gain in affordable housing. No real gain in people housed despite increased density…perhaps even a loss. Just a summer of sharing the lot line with a construction site.

There’s a Port-A-Potty at the closest corner of their kitchen window, where there used to be trees filled with birdsong. During official demolition there was some cursory hosing of dust with a garden hose. Greenbuild’s website says, “We bend over backwards to provide exceptional client service, ongoing communication, and great listening skills. From our project managers to our on-site clean-up crew, our team is fully engaged in our work.” It’s too bad Stan, Lauren and Julianna aren’t the clients.

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