Business

Merchants push petition to support development

Controversial development along shoreline finds backers

LANGLEY — A group of Langleyites is circulating a petition in support of the sensible and managed development of Langley’s waterfront.

The low-key signature campaign has found significant support in the community, especially among merchants and property owners. Between Friday and late Monday, more than 65 people from Langley had signed the petition.

The pro-development petition has caused a buzz in the Village by the Sea, which has been inflamed lately by anti-development passions of residents who are opposed to large development projects that may be built near the city marina.

Mary Elizabeth Rosenberg, co-owner of Mike’s Place, was thrilled to hear about the petition. She said it was about time to hear from proponents of the recently proposed shoreline projects.

“I’d like the merchants to step up and say this is something we want,” she said. “Merchants really would like to see some more activity.”

The petition says that the signers believe that responsible development along Langley’s shoreline will contribute to the economic vitality of Langley.

“Accordingly, we are in favor of zoning, code and permit decisions that encourage well-designed and environmentally-conscious

development in Langley’s commercially zoned Wharf Street area and Edgecliff Slope, so long as significant harbor views, engineering and geotechnical standards, sustainable building and high architectural standards are major factors in the zoning and permitting process,” the petition says.

Organizers want to present the petition at an upcoming city council meeting, as well as a Planning Advisory Board meeting.

The Langley City Council will meet Wednesday, Dec. 19, and the city’s planning board will convene the next time on Jan. 9.

In recent months two developers have expressed interest in building mixed-use complexes on the waterfront near Langley’s marina.

In addition, the Port of South Whidbey, which will take over the city’s marina in 2009, announced plans to build commercial space on land near Langley’s small boat harbor. Other local waterfront property owners are also looking at expansions.

However, current zoning could prohibit proposed developments.

The waterfront below First Street and the area near Wharf Street is zoned “commercial” and it is designated under the city’s shoreline master program for “urban - high density” development.

In contrast, Langley’s critical areas ordinance calls for protecting the area’s critical natural features, such as sandy beaches and steep bluffs. Those rules won’t allow large-scale development on such environmentally-sensitive lands.

The bluff below First Street is exempt from this rule, however, while property owners near the marina can’t develop because of restrictions in place.

Mayor Neil Colburn had asked the city council this summer to discuss zoning changes that would allow for development and would have treated both shorelines the same.

After complaints by residents and local environmentalists, though, the city council killed the zoning proposal and said it would pick up the discussion after changes are made this year to the city’s growth plan.

Council members also bounced the problem to the Planning Advisory Board, which is currently evaluating shoreline development issues.

City officials said there are three solutions to allow more seaside development.

The city could change Langley’s planning documents, zoning and code language; amend the critical areas ordinance; or exempt the waterfront area from the critical areas rules.

It’s been a rough ride for the developers and city officials who have been open to waterfront development. During public meetings on waterfront issues, those who spoke up represented mostly an anti-development stance and raised concerns about the stability of bluffs along the shoreline, as well as the scope and size of the proposed projects. Pointed criticism, including name calling, has marked public meetings and debate on the Langley Community Forum Website.

City officials and developers have said supporters of development along the coast have been reluctant to speak out.

Rosenberg said she was glad people have found a way to express their opinions.

And even though they signed the petition, a number of signers declined to comment when contacted by The Record, saying they wanted to stay out of the spotlight because their business may be targeted or they would be personally attacked on the Langley Community Forum.

Ruth Den Adel, the president of the chamber of commerce, said the community should at least be open to ideas and that waterfront development could have a significant economic impact.

A conference center and more commercial space wouldn’t compete with already existing businesses, Den Adel said.

“It wouldn’t take away from small bed-and-breakfasts and businesses. It would provide different services,” she said.

Currently, if a couple plans a large wedding in Langley, they have to make plans to arrange for enough rooms in Langley more than nine months in advance, she explained.

“I had people camp out in tents before,” Den Adel said.

There is a community benefit to the plans presented by the developers, she added. Some have suggested outlets for local artists and events.

“One of the things that’s lost in it is the artistic and cultural element,” she said. “It would be beneficial for an artistic community like ours. How couldn’t it?”

Den Adel has been one of the few people who has supported the development at recent public meetings. She also has property that would be sold to one of the developers if a development project moves forward.

Beyond economic stimulation and a few more jobs, the development would also increase the tax base for Langley, help stabilize the bluff through construction and make the marina area more attractive, Rosenberg added.

She said she would rather see a developer pay for parks, infrastructure and the upkeep of the bluff than seeing the city squeeze the money for such necessities out of taxpayers down the road.

“Ten years from now we’ll be responsible for the (bluff) erosion and the consequences will burden the taxpayer,” she said. “We have competent developers. They’ve spent a lot of money, done a lot of research and are still willing to do something.”

A big part of Langley’s charm and atmosphere is it’s busy central business district. But Rosenberg fears that it could become extinct if Langley doesn’t continue to reinvent itself.

“We wouldn’t be worried so much, but in the last few months many businesses on this street (First Street) have struggled,” she said. “It’s a domino effect.”

Rosenberg added that most proponents and opponents still have the same goal: to protect the lifestyle that makes Langley special.

“The whole idea of being a small business is to create a lifestyle for yourself and your family,” she said. “We just want to protect that.”

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