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Environmental activist appointed to Langley’s planning board

An avowed friend of the earth is the newest member of Langley’s Planning Advisory Board.

Gail Fleming, a 30-year resident of the Village by the Sea, has joined the volunteer group which reviews and recommends action on land-use issues in the city.

“I have nothing against growth,” Fleming said Thursday. “But I want it to be balanced with the needs of the environment — balancing the needs of humans with the needs of the land.”

Fleming was confirmed by the Langley City Council to the alternate position on the board after being nominated by Mayor Paul Samuelson. Her term is for three years.

As an alternate, she will sit in on all PAB meetings, but only vote if a member of the five-person regular board is absent.

“I attend all the meetings anyway,” Fleming said. “Voting doesn’t happen very often.”

The regular board members are Jim Sundberg, Roger Gage, Julie Buktenica, Fred Geisler and newly appointed Craig Carty.

Fleming’s appointment appears to be somewhat of a balance for Carty, a 30-year veteran of the construction industry.

Fleming may soon fill in on the regular board. Geisler has announced he will be leaving for Mexico for several months, but as of now has no intention of resigning.

Langley Planning Director Larry Cort said Friday that a decision on whether Geisler can keep his seat during his hiatus will be up to the mayor. The city has a provision that PAB members must be residents of the city.

Cort said that when Geisler spent time in Mexico last year, he participated in meetings via a computer hookup.

“But that was two months,” Cort said. “Eight months or so would be a challenge.”

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, subdivisions and variances, and the creation of development regulations, overlay district 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 held hearings on the fate of Langley Passage, a 20-lot housing subdivision planned for the Edgecliff neighborhood in the works since 2006.

The fate of the project’s preliminary plat has been passed on to the city council with the PAB’s recommendation that it be denied.

Fleming is a resident of the Edgecliff neighborhood and a vocal critic of Langley Passage, which the PAB has rejected.

She is a member of Langley Critical Areas Alliance, a group of area residents battling the project on environmental grounds. She’s also a contributor to Whidbey Environmental Action Network, another environmental watchdog group opposed to the development.

Fleming is the second PAB member with strong connections to WEAN. Geisler is listed as an officer of the organization through 2010. Earlier this year, Geisler recused himself from PAB discussion of Langley Passage because of his involvement in WEAN.

Both LCAA and WEAN have filed appeals against Langley Passage, which will be decided by the city council along with the fate of the development.

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

Fleming also is a member of the city’s advisory Parks and Open Space Commission, and participated the past few years in an update of the city’s comprehensive plan. While on the PAB, she said she looks forward to dealing with an update of the city’s capital improvement program and a proposed tree ordinance.

She may also take part in the ongoing revision of the city’s subdivision ordinance.

Cort said a member with seats on two separate boards at the same time “is rare, but it does happen” and there’s no city regulation against it.

For example, Cary

Peterson is a member of both the Parks and Open Space Commission and the Cemetery Board, while Bob Waterman is a city councilman and chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Fleming sees her membership on both the Parks and Open Space Commission and the PAB as a plus rather than a conflict.

“I believe it’s good to have as many liaisons as possible between boards to coordinate things,” she said. “I believe in good and clear communication.”

Fleming said she has had several jobs through the years, including as a teacher and therapist, and currently works as a bookkeeper. Group dynamics are a special fascination, she said.

She’s also a songwriter and playwright, a performing member of the local improv troupe Wake Up Laughing and a founding member of the Langley Community Forum, “back when it was face-to-face.”

But her primary concern is maintaining a good balance between the human and natural worlds, she said.

“I discovered I have an interest in land use and planning,” Fleming said. “And I care about the future of Langley — it comes down to that.”

“It’s the land that supports us,” she added. “If we trash it, that’s not wise. We can’t foul our own nest.”

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