When Doug Ballou moved to Hazel Dell, he said, there was so much work to be done.
Thirty-plus years later, there’s still plenty to do to make Hazel Dell a better place, but longtime community activist and neighborhood leader Ballou is no longer on the job. He and his wife, Cynthia, moved last month to the Overlook neighborhood of Portland, where they plan to build an accessory dwelling unit on the property of their daughter and son-in-law.
It was the late 1980s when the Ballous bought a little piece of the big, fast-growing community north of Vancouver’s Ross Complex power station. It wasn’t until afterwards that they discovered that a Vancouver mailing address didn’t mean their home was actually within the boundary of the city of Vancouver.
“We had no idea we’d just bought a home in unincorporated Clark County,” Ballou said with a chuckle.
He also discovered that his new community was sorely lacking in sidewalks and parks. “This is ridiculous,” Ballou thought as he strolled the area in search of people-friendly amenities and found few.
Ballou and other neighbors took their beef to Clark County’s parks director and advocated for a partnership agreement between the county, which had money, and the Vancouver school district, which had land. The result was 5-acre Gaiser Middle School Park — the first of many school-park partnerships in the unincorporated county.
“That was my first taste of community involvement,” said Ballou, who wound up devoting 30 years to leading the Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association, including many terms as president. He also chaired the umbrella Neighborhood Associations Council of Clark County for more than 20 years, and was honored for his volunteerism in 2017 with a President’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ballou saw his role as bringing information to neighbors and making sure their voices were heard when county government was making decisions that would affect their lives and landscapes, he said. That kind of organizing used to be a lot harder in the days before the internet and social media, he said.
“We had trouble reaching people,” Ballou said.
So after about five years he was glad to find another Hazel Dell resident interested in building community: Bud Van Cleve. Van Cleve was a retired shoe salesman with time on his hands, Ballou recalled, and he wound up spending 40 hours a week going to meetings and watchdogging Hazel Dell developments.
Van Cleve “was a great man who was really dedicated to making his neighborhood and his community a better place to live,” said Ballou, who made neighborhood meetings on evenings and weekends while commuting to Portland to work in the utility industry. Ballou and Van Cleve worked closely together for years to make Hazel Dell a better place, Ballou said.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, but we learned together,” he said. “We said, ‘How can we build this organization?’ ”
Ballou said he’s proud of pressing for safety improvements along many of Hazel Dell’s busy streets, which were built without sidewalks, and the hard bargaining between neighbors, sports leagues and park designers that led to Luke Jensen Sports Park on 78th Street being built in a way that works for all.
“That was a win-win for everyone,” he said. “Bringing neighbors and governments together to make sure everybody is heard — that’s a pretty big deal.”
His main regret, he said, is the failed “New City” vote of 1997. Residents of Hazel Dell, Felida and Salmon Creek resoundingly rejected a ballot proposal to incorporate as Vancouver’s neighboring municipality to the north.
Incorporating would have meant better services and development standards across the years, Ballou said. Other Washington communities that chose to incorporate in those days have made major progress, he said, but Hazel Dell has not.
“Hazel Dell is an urban area. It would be better off with a municipality to provide services,” he said. “If we’d had 25 years of electing local officials and making local decisions about land use and development, Hazel Dell would be a very different community now.”
He said he hopes the effort to keep neighbors organized, informed and engaged with the Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association continues — even though there hasn’t been a real in-person neighborhood association meeting since early last year. The neighborhood is eager to start holding county-hosted video meetings, which hasn’t yet been possible this year, Ballou said. Those meetings should begin in January, he said. Meanwhile, neighborhood Vice President Bill Cline will step in as interim leader. The neighborhood newsletter is still going out.
Ballou still loves quoting his friend and mentor, Bud Van Cleve, who died in 2014. Van Cleve’s motto was: “You don’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.”