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‘Build a condo over my heart, you’re killing me Ballard’

This condo development, the Urbana, at the corner of 15th Avenue NW and NW Market Street is scheduled to open in October of 2013. It replaces what used to be a Denny's restaurant and other small businesses in Ballard. More than 20 new condo buildings and apartments are under construction or approved for development in the Seattle neighborhood through 2014. (Linda Thomas photo)

An elderly man raises a fist at a construction crane and says, “They might as well build a condo over my heart. You’re killing me Ballard.”

Condominiums and apartments are bringing younger residents to the Northwest Seattle neighborhood, along with more traffic and competition for parking spaces.

A dozen large projects are under construction in Ballard with more on the way. By the time all the approved projects are finished in 2014, 20 new housing developments will have popped up.

Many of those buildings are replacing family businesses.

Tenants of the Tallman Medical building have been notified their property was sold one month ago for $8 million. The businesses will be demolished to make way for two new seven-story towers with apartment units.

The Viking Tavern, established in 1950, had its last call forever. More condo units are going up at the location near Northwest 65th Street and 24th Avenue Northwest.

Developments called “The Lofts,” “AVA,” “Belay” and “Noma” (North of Market) are casting shadows over companies that have either closed or relocated. That includes Sunset Lanes, Archie McPhees, Jacobsen’s Marine and Denny’s.

“My dad and my uncle started Nielsen Brothers Flooring back in 1946,” says Liz Nielsen-Miller. “They started on Ballard Avenue repairing rugs. Then Dad caught on to this wall-to-wall rug thing, which was brand new. They started selling carpet in the daytime and installing at night. In 1962 they built this building.”

The building she’s referring to on NW 56th Street has been vacant for months. The 11 Nielsen family members who owned the property sold it and are focusing on their locations outside of Seattle.

“This will be the first time since 1946 that there isn’t a Nielsen Brothers Carpet in Ballard,” she says. “Actually now my sister Helen who owns Cobblestone Salon will be the last Nielsen owning a business in Ballard.”

A flooring store could do well in an area surrounded by condo units. Part of the problem, according to a former Nielsen manager, is that there’s “little to no parking left in Ballard.”

“The expense of everything is getting so much that it is difficult to have any kind of retail presence that is of large size,” says Tom Martin. “If you take a look at where Jacobsen’s Marine used to be, that’s a big hole that will be another large condo.”

Martin is like many long-time Ballard residents. He’s not sure if the increased development is progress.

“I was born in Ballard General Hospital five blocks from here, so if life is a circle mine has been a very small one,” he says. “I don’t know if Ballard is changing for the better but it’s certainly changing rapidly.”

The condo craze is a byproduct of a neighborhood plan the City of Seattle created many years ago with the goal of reducing sprawl by targeting certain areas for high-density development.

Ballard is one of those areas because it has a large amount of multifamily zoned land and access to existing transit.

It’s also a desirable place to live. A travel survey a few weeks ago named Ballard one of the “10 best neighborhoods that tourists haven’t found yet” in the United States.

While many appreciate the new housing, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops, some in the community worry that the growth is exploding far beyond what city planners envisioned.

“For people that have been here for 30, 40 years it is a completely different world. Change happens and you have to adapt to it, but change is one of the hardest things for most humans to adapt to,” Martin says. “I was talking to an older lady the other day. She said, ‘I’ve lived in Ballard all my life and it’s changing. And it’s not for the better,’ as she muttered and wandered off.”



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