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Both sides challenge PAB decision on Langley Passage

The Langley Planning Advisory Board’s review of the controversial Langley Passage housing project has prompted five appeals to the city council.

Supporters and critics of the 20-home project are both asking the city council to set aside the recommendations made by the Planning Advisory Board last month.

In an advisory vote on Aug. 11, the PAB voted 2-1 against the plan for the new subdivision. It also upheld the city’s environmental review of the project, however, despite the request for further study of the housing project by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network and the Langley Critical Area Alliance, a group of Edgecliff residents and others opposed to the project.

Langley Passage has been in the works for more than four years. Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, led by local builder Gary Roth, has proposed building two- and three-bedroom homes on 8.52 acres in the Edgecliff neighborhood between Edgecliff Drive and Sandy Point Road.

Nearby property owners and others have bitterly opposed the project, and have warned that development will increase stormwater flows that will further destabilize the crumbling bluff along Saratoga Passage.

Appeals go to council

Larry Cort, planning director for the city of Langley, said all five appeals will be considered by the city council in a closed-record hearing on Sept. 20.

Whidbey Neighborhood Partners filed the first appeal, on Aug. 16, challenging the PAB’s recommended denial of the preliminary plat for Langley Passage.

The Langley Critical Area Alliance filed appeals the following day to both the plat and the city’s environmental review of the project.

WEAN filed its two appeals — also challenging the city’s environmental review and the preliminary plat — a week later on Aug. 23.

“We’ll package all those up and ship it with the full record to the council,” Cort said.

Lack of evidence cited

In its notice of appeal, the developers said the PAB made five mistakes in recommending that the project be rejected.

Roth, in his appeal letter, said the board’s decision was not supported by “competent evidence” in the record, and the board was also mistaken when it said the project did not comply with the city’s comprehensive plan and city and state regulations on development and subdivisions.

Douglas Kelly, an attorney representing Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, said they would provide more details on the board’s inadequate evidence in a legal brief that will be submitted to the city later this week.

“We’ll be laying out the reasons in our brief,” he said.

Although the Langley Critical Area Alliance supports the PAB decision to reject the project, the group said in its appeal notice that the PAB did not go far enough in setting out the reasons why the proposal should be shot down.

Robin Adams, representing the group, said the board should expand its decision to make clear that the housing project is “not beneficial to the public health, safety and welfare” because it will need water and sewer lines that don’t fit with the city’s plans, and added that the development will put a financial and administrative strain on the city.

In his appeal brief, Adams also said the project did not provide adequate road improvements and is inconsistent with the city’s comp plan, the document that guides future development in Langley.

The group also noted six places where the PAB had made errors in deciding whether the city’s review of potential environmental impacts from the development was sufficient.

In its appeal letters, WEAN also claimed the PAB made mistakes in its decision last month on the plan for the project.

The board made a legal blunder, WEAN said, when it did not properly consider the plan to put a waterline through a wetland on the Langley Passage property.

Critics of the project have previously raised concerns about damage to a wetland next to Edgecliff Drive if the waterline is installed. City officials have asked the developer to install the waterline on the Langley Passage property to create a new loop in the system to guard against future water outages.

WEAN also said the city made procedural errors during its review of the project, and again asked that an environmental impact statement be prepared for the development.

PAB rejects plat plan

The PAB asked the city council last month to scrap the project on a 2-1 vote.

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

PAB Chairman Jim Sundberg supported the project, and suggested additional modifications that included more vegetation to help soak up water runoff.

Gage said he was worried about the proposed waterline that crossed the property, but said his biggest concern was the number of people who opposed the development. The city has received more than 100 letters from critics of the project.

Buktenica said her biggest concern was a “glut” of unsold homes in Langley.

Appeal briefs from those opposing the PAB’s decision are due Thursday.

On Monday, Cort said that no evidence had been submitted during the nine meetings on Langley Passage that dealt with the housing market in Langley.

“There’s certainly nothing in the record that provided an account of the number of houses in the city of Langley or the number of unsold lots,” he said.

Many homes for sale

Linda Beeman, a Realtor with Windermere Real Estate/South Whidbey, said there are currently 46 active and contingent listings in Langley.

With an average of 1.25 home sales per month in Langley, that means there are 36.8 months’ worth of inventory.

Beeman said the real estate industry generally regards an inventory of zero to six months as a sellers’ market, six to 12 months as a neutral market, and 12-plus months as a buyers’ market.

By comparison, she said there are with 19 months’ worth of inventory for the area from Bakken Road to the ferry dock.

Some homes in Langley have been sitting on the market for two years. That’s a big change from earlier, she added.

“Four or five years ago, it was a hot commodity to find a small house in Langley,” Beeman said.

“My recollection is houses listed in Langley were just snapped up. Developers saw that, too, in 2005 and 2006.”

The number of sales in Langley has crept upward in recent years, however.

Beeman said that within city limits, there were seven public (not sales concluded privately between individuals) home sales in 2007 at a median price of $455,000.

In 2008 there were 11 such sales at a median price of $431,150, and in 2009, there were 15 sales at a median price of $300,000.

This year, there have been 10 sales in Langley so far, with a median price of $411,250.

Proponents of Langley Passage have stressed that the city will benefit from the new development, even if the homes are not sold right away.

The developers have said the project will add to the city’s tax base, and Langley will also get additional revenue from new water hookups. Construction of the new houses also would provide local jobs, Roth said.

The developers also promised to transfer two of the 20 home lots to the nonprofit organization Saratoga Community Housing, so two homes could be sold for approximately $150,000.

Other houses in the subdivision would range from about $250,000 to view homes that would be priced in near $450,000, Roth said earlier.

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