Finding a family-friendly neighborhood

KIDS FIRST: Cameron and Betsy Watters, with sons Sean and Caleb, sought convenience as well as a child-friendly location. PHOTO BY DON CLARK

By Stacee Sledge, for The Bellingham Herald

For many couples, the last barrier to starting a family was buying your first home. Many newlyweds spend the first two years of our marriage erasing every last penny of student loans and other debt, and then begin to save equally as aggressively for a down payment.

When it comes time to take the plunge into mortgage payments, a child-friendly neighborhood is often at the top of the must-have list.

The main attributes for any kid-friendly neighborhood are good schools, lots of recreation options, and a safe location.

For Cameron and Betsy Watters, finding a neighborhood that would suit sons Sean, 4, and Caleb, 3, was key.

“We primarily looked in the Sunnyland neighborhood north of Alabama Street between Cornwall and James Street,” said Cameron. They also looked at parts of the Roosevelt neighborhood north of Alabama Street between Woburn and Orleans and the Eldridge/Columbia district. "Other areas were attractive to us, but we had a hard time finding houses in Fairhaven, Silver Beach and up the hill on Barkley.”

The couple recently made an offer on a Roosevelt neighborhood house that was built in 1999. It offers everything they were looking for, including space, location and that family-friendly feel.

Cameron stresses that he and Betsy were looking for a neighborhood that was more than just kid-friendly; they were striving for an area that was a good fit for the entire family. “Also important, especially when you take your kids everywhere with you, is convenience,” he said. “We wanted to be close enough to the grocery store and other amenities so that we could walk if we wanted to.”

They were also happy to find their new home is within the Northern Heights School District. “Because our boys will be starting school in the next few years,” said Cameron, “we wanted to live in an area with decent schools.”

Another attractive quality to their new neighborhood is the lack of traffic whizzing by. “Low-traffic streets are definitely a plus when you have children,” he said.

The biggest selling point for the Watters when they viewed the home wasn’t just that they loved the house’s layout and it was in one of the neighborhoods on their list. “It was also a big plus that there were a number of kids playing in yards around the neighborhood when we first looked at the house,” said Cameron.

Sometimes outside criteria forces a family to choose a neighborhood that isn’t completely kid-friendly. Brian and Cambria Rollo found themselves moving to Bellingham from Seattle on short notice as Brian unexpectedly changed job positions.

They needed to quickly find a home and hoped for one similar to that they’d left — and loved — in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. Cambria was only a few weeks away from giving birth to their second daughter Maille, now 2, joining Lydia, now 4. The family moved into an apartment temporarily, but were anxious to find a home.

They eventually bought a house in the York neighborhood that fit every other criterion, but child-friendliness wasn’t high on their list of priorities.

“We definitely wouldn't have bought a house in an area that felt unsafe,” said Brian. “And I don't think that Cambria and I really felt that this house would be our long-term home, but more of a place to start. I can really see us wanting to go to more of a family-type neighborhood as the girls get a little older.

“There are a few other families with young children nearby, but I don't know when I'd feel comfortable letting our girls walk there on their own,” said Brian. “One family is about six houses down, but you have to pass four or five rental houses to get there. I don't have anything personal against renters, but you just never know who has moved in.”

Brian believes it wouldn’t take much to give make the area more family-friendly. “We would feel better about the York neighborhood as a family neighborhood if there was a decent park nearby. There is one tiny little park next to the freeway that we never go to. "The nearest recreational area is Franklin Park, but the family would have to cross busy Lakeway Drive to reach it.

“We knew this was a drawback to the neighborhood,” said Brian, “but we felt like we couldn't pass on the house.”

If a child-friendly neighborhood is high on your home buying wish list, do a bit of homework to make sure the areas in which you’re searching are suitable.

Is there a park with plenty of play equipment within walking distance? Swings, sandboxes and slides will tickle toddlers, while close proximity to shopping centers, movie theaters, and coffee shops will satisfy teens.

Also look into the quality of schools in the district in which you plan to move. Most schools have websites that list standardized test scores. You can call any school and request information about average class size and student/teacher ratio.

And be sure you’ll feel safe in your new neighborhood by asking friends and family about their experiences and checking crime statistics at the Bellingham Police Department’s website at

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