Newest PAB member vows to stir the pot in Langley

The newest member of Langley’s Planning Advisory Board has his own plan — to shake things up.

“They’re not doing the job they should be doing,” Craig Carty said this past week. “Rather than complain, I decided to roll up my sleeves and get in there and see if I can make a difference.”

“I think they’ve done a pretty good job up until now,” he added. “But they’ve gotten a little off track.”

Carty, a longtime Langley resident and a 30-year veteran of the construction industry, was appointed to the five-member volunteer advisory board by Mayor Paul Samuelson. The appointment was confirmed by the Langley City Council at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Carty, 55, fills the unexpired three-year term of Melanie Shafaat, who moved to Thailand recently. The term expires next May.

The other members of the board are chairman Jim Sundberg, Roger Gage, Julie Buktenica and Fred Geisler. An alternate position on the board still remains to be filled.

The PAB initiates, researches, reviews and recommends action on land use in the city. It advises the city council on such things as conditional-use permits, subdivision and variances, and the creation of development regulations, overlay districts and plans.

The PAB only makes recommendations on issues based on the public hearings it conducts, and on its research. The city council makes all final decisions.

The PAB has been on the hot seat in recent weeks as it conducted hearings on the fate of Langley Passage, a 20-lot housing subdivision planned for the Edgecliff neighborhood that has been in the planning pipeline since 2006.

On Aug. 12, the PAB recommended to the city council that the project be denied on the basis of the “public interest” and the number of complaints the city has received against it.

Sundberg recommended approval of the project with additional modifications. But Buktenica said there already was a glut of houses on the Langley market, and Gage said the outcry of area residents against the project on environmental and other grounds should be given full weight.

Geisler did not participate in the hearings and recused himself because of his involvement with the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, or WEAN. WEAN was one of two groups that opposed the project and challenged the city’s environmental review of the proposal.

The PAB members also voted 3-0 to deny the two environmental appeals against the project, saying an environmental impact statement was not necessary.

Both the developers and the environmental groups say they will appeal the PAB’s recommendations.

The issue is expected to come before the city council in mid-September.

Carty won’t be dealing with Langley Passage, unless the project is rejected by the city council and the local developers, Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, come back with an alternative proposal.

“That’s a dead horse for me, unless the council denies it, and the developers resubmit,” he said.

But Carty has definite opinions about how the PAB handled the issue.

“Their reasons for denial were inadequate and wrong,” Carty said. “They’re a quasi-judicial body that is supposed to deal with the facts, not emotions.”

“The developers provided sound science and met every condition that was presented to them,” he added.

Carty said his primary concern is the ongoing update of the city’s subdivision regulations.

City officials and staff have been working for years on new regulations for development. The revisions would be incorporated into the city’s updated comprehensive plan.

Some officials are pushing a bottoms-up “neighborhood” approach to each residential zone, so the city can be certain that questions of natural attributes, an area’s existing character and its social aspects would all be addressed.

However, some of the suggested changes, such as an increased set-aside of open space, clustering of houses and environmental and sustainable building restrictions, have drawn criticism from several area builders, who say such restrictions will increase the price of houses.

The city has been pushing to get new regulations in place following the expiration of a nearly three-year moratorium on building in specific residential areas.

“I believe the process has a long way to go,” Carty said. “There are many, many flaws.”

“I’d like to see the zoning issue put to bed once and for all,” he added. “There’s a lot of stuff that has to take place to get it back to a workable form.”

Carty has lived on Whidbey Island for more than 30 years, the past 22 in Langley.

He started in construction as a carpenter, and worked his way up to project manager and supervisor.

He said he has participated in projects throughout the U.S., some of them involving his personal coordination with cities and other government entities.

Although this is his first position on a city panel, he said he has followed Langley land-use issues closely and has done consulting work for the city from time to time.

Carty said he has monitored the city’s progress on subdivisions during the past year, and believes he can contribute to the process.

“I’m fairly conservative in my views,” he said. “I want to see the place get back the vitality it had when I first came here. It’s a sleepy little town, but there’s life in it. But it’s dangling on a string right now.”

“I hope to be of some influence,” he added.

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