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Langley board: Kill proposed housing project

In a divided, three-way opinion, a majority of the Langley Planning Advisory Board will ask the city council to reject the plan for the Langley Passage housing project.

The board wrapped up its review of the preliminary plat for the new neighborhood on Wednesday, and two of three PAB members said they opposed the 20-home project.

“There are so many people against this,” Roger Gage told his fellow PAB members at the close of extended hearings on the controversial project this week.

Gage said that though the project could be “workable” if it were modified, the board should let public opinion guide the recommendation the PAB makes to the city council, which will eventually decide the fate of the proposed subdivision.

“We are not sitting on this board and making our decision,” Gage said. “We should be thinking of the public and what they want. And we know what they want.”

Gage said he hoped the new neighborhood would be rejected “without prejudice,” which would give the developers — Whidbey Neighborhood Partners — the chance to make changes to the project and submit a new plan to the city. Gage has lobbied for fewer homes to be built on the 8.52-acre property between Edgecliff Drive and Sandy Point Road, and the developers themselves, led by local builder Gary Roth, have repeatedly revised their plan to curry the city’s favor.

The developers have promised to install rain gardens at every home site — to help handle stormwater runoff that some in the neighborhood say will further destabilize the crumbling bluff along Saratoga Passage — and along the road leading into the new neighborhood. The developers also pledged to pay for improvements to the drainage system along Edgecliff Drive, set aside two lots to a nonprofit organization that would provide affordable housing, and remove just six trees on the forested property when it is cleared for development.

PAB member Julie Buktenica, however, said Langley doesn’t need more homes, and said the project should be denied outright.

She again wondered if the housing project was in the public interest, and repeated her concerns made earlier about a glut of unsold homes in Langley.

“I look at whether we really need another 17 houses, if there are so many that are standing vacant,” she said.

Though Buktenica and Gage split on how the project should be rejected, PAB Chairman Jim Sundberg held an opposite view: He said the housing project should go forward, but with several additional modifications.

Those changes would include additional requirements for monitoring water leaving the property, and also preserving more vegetation on the property so less water would be likely to flow toward the sensitive bluff where many opponents of the new neighborhood have homes.

Sundberg said the requirement could include an additional four shrubs, 4-feet tall, plus three saplings, to replace every tree cut down during development. Also, the amount of green canopy left on the land could be increased from 30 percent to another 5 or 10 percent, Sundberg said.

“A key factor is the preservation of vegetative cover on the site,” he said.

“By increasing the amount of vegetative cover, I think we take away the major concern about increasing groundwater recharge,” he said. “If we can maintain and expand the vegetative cover, then a lot of the concerns basically begin to shrink, and shrink quite dramatically.”

“I think the rest of the project is actually exemplary,” Sundberg added.

Sundberg said the current development proposal had already undergone a lot of give-and-take between Langley and its proponents, and would bring some benefits to the city.

Still, he didn’t press his fellow board members to change their views — something Gage said would not happen with him, regardless.

“If this project is denied, it is not the end of the world,” Sundberg said finally. “But then, the further subdivision of the land is still a possibility. And I’m not sure it would be better. That is one of my concerns.”

At the PAB’s next meeting on Aug. 11, the three members will each present their conflicting opinions on the project.

Larry Cort, Langley’s planning chief, said Thursday he did not take the preliminary plat rejection personally. City planning staff has recommended that the project be approved, and said the development would pose no additional danger to the bluff nearby. Langley’s planning department has also said the project fits with Langley’s zoning and building rules, and should be approved despite the concerns of some who live nearby.

“I think that they are hopefully relying on facts that are in the record,” Cort said of the PAB. “I have no problem with it.”

The project has been highly controversial, and two groups — the Whidbey Environmental Action Network and the Langley Critical Area Alliance, a group of Edgecliff residents and others opposed to the project — have challenged the city’s environmental review.

Langley residents have been fighting additional development in the Edgecliff area for more than five years, and the proposal for Langley Passage was submitted to the city after Langley’s first-ever moratorium against new subdivisions was lifted in February 2006.

The city has received more than 100 letters opposed to the project, and Cort had earlier advised the PAB that “citizen discomfort” could not be used to determine if the proposal was in the public interest.

Even so, Gage, a PAB member, said Thursday that public opposition to the project was one of the main reasons why he wanted it rejected. He also didn’t like the city’s proposal to run a water line across a wetland on the Langley Passage property.

“My reasoning behind this was the water line running through the wetlands and just the number of residents from the city of Langley that were agin it,” he said.

“There were an awful lot of people that wrote letters and showed up at our hearings and were against it from the get-go,” Gage said.

“My concern is the water, the runoff and where the water is eventually going to end up,” he added. “We all know where it’s going to end up.”

Doug Kelly, an attorney representing the developers, said the proponents had gone a long way toward addressing concerns about the project.

With no actual vote occurring at Wednesday’s meeting, the developers are waiting to see the results from next week’s PAB meeting.

“At this point, we have to await the board decision before we decide how to proceed,” Kelly said.

Community Events, April 2014

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