Both sides planning appeals on Langley PAB decision

The hot-potato Langley Passage housing project was tossed into the laps of the Langley City Council on Wednesday.

After months of hearings and information collection, the city’s volunteer Planning Advisory Board voted 2-1 to recommend denial of the proposed 20-lot development’s preliminary plat. The project has been in the works for more than four years.

The PAB recommendation was “without prejudice,” meaning developers could submit a modified proposal to the city at a later date.

The developers said they will appeal the PAB’s recommendation, and continue to insist that the project would be a benefit to the community.

“It’s my understanding they were to give an opinion based on the code and laws,” local builder Gary Roth of Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, developers of the project, said Thursday. “They didn’t follow the code and laws.”

Roth said the expressed reasons for recommending denial of the project “have absolutely nothing to do with preliminary plat approval.”

PAB members Roger Gage and Julie Buktenica voted for denial, saying the development “isn’t in the public interest.”

PAB Chairman Jim Sundberg remained in favor of the project, saying it should be approved with additional modifications, including more vegetation to help soak up water runoff.

Although it recommended against the project, the PAB also voted unanimously to uphold the city’s environmental review of the development. Board members said that two appeals filed by opponents of the new neighborhood should be denied.

The plan calls for two- and three-bedroom homes on 8.52 acres in the Edgecliff neighborhood between Edgecliff Drive and Sandy Point Road. Two of the 20 lots would be reserved for low-income housing.

City planning staff has recommended that the project be approved, saying it would pose no additional danger to the nearby bluff. Planners have also said the project fits with Langley’s zoning and building rules, and should be approved despite the concerns of some residents who live nearby.

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.

Representative of both groups said Wednesday they would appeal the PAB’s denial recommendation.

“We’re not thrilled about it, but we have no other option if we ever go to court,” said Marianne Edain of WEAN.

“We certainly will appeal,” said Robin Adams of the Langley Critical Area Alliance.

Langley Planning Director Larry Cort said Wednesday that the developers and the environmental opponents have 10 days to make their appeals, which would then be considered by the city council along with the PAB’s recommendations.

The PAB’s actions are only advisory; the ultimate fate of the development is up to the five-member city council.

Cort said Langley Passage probably wouldn’t come before the city council until the council’s Sept. 20 meeting at the earliest.

Gage of the PAB said he was worried about a proposed waterline along a portion of a wetland, but his biggest concern was the number of people in the community who expressed opposition to the project.

“So many people sent in letters against it,” he said.

Roth said he knows of even more people who support the development.

“Unfortunately, they haven’t taken the time to come to the hearings,” he said Thursday.

Roth said he was considering collecting signatures of support from throughout South Whidbey to present to the city council.

PAB member Buktenica said her primary concern was the prospect of more empty houses in the city.

“For me it’s the economic situation in Langley,” she said. “I don’t see the timing of it being in the best interest of the city. It doesn’t make sense to me to add to the glut.”

Roth has a different opinion. He said that the city would benefit from additional housing units, even if they remain unsold for a while.

He said that while the developers are currently paying taxes on one piece of property, 20 developed parcels would produce that much more revenue, not counting money from water hookups and other city services.

Construction of the new houses also would provide local jobs, he said.

“They don’t understand what it will do for a community hurting for revenue right now,” Roth said. “Even if houses are built and not sold, it’s our burden, not the city’s.”

Langley residents have been fighting additional development in the Edgecliff area for more than five years.

“We’ve made many, many attempts over a four-year span to make changes to appease the city and the public,” Roth said Thursday, noting that Whidbey Neighborhood Partners even volunteered to put up a $250,000 bond when only $100,000 was required, to reassure the city that it would take care of any problems that arose.

Roth said Whidbey Neighborhood Partners would probably agree to make further modifications to the plan if that’s what it takes to get it approved.

“We’re islanders,” he said. “We’ve been here a long time and will continue to be here.

“We want to reassure the neighborhood that we will do a very, very good job on this,” he added.

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