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New park-and-ride creates lot of unrest

LANGLEY — Lines are starting to be drawn over a proposed development project in the Village by the Sea, but not in the way that city officials had imagined.

A proposed paving project — turning the Langley CMA Church parking lot into a part-time park-and-ride — is drawing fire from a few environmental activists on the South End, who say the city council should pull the plug on the project and pay back grant money it has received for the $480,000 makeover.

The fresh cacophony, led by Langley resident Mark Wahl, has caught the city council’s ear. Council members have devoted sizable portions of recent meetings to press city staff to explain how the project has gotten as far along as it has.

The proposed infrastructure upgrade — paving the existing gravel lot, striping it, improving the lighting and landscaping, and tackling the stormwater runoff issues that impact the water quality of nearby Brookhaven Creek — isn’t exactly new. The council has given its unanimous approval to the idea four times since July 2004, including a go-ahead on a contract with the CMA Church in February 2006 to share the costs of improvements in exchange for 50 public parking stalls. A year ago, the council authorized an engineering contract for more work on the project.

Wahl, however, has recently questioned the cost of the upgrade, and has said the church will be the biggest beneficiary in a potentially reputation-staining “boondoggle” for the city.

At the council meeting earlier this week, city staff again rose to defend the project.

To those who had questioned why Langley needs a new park-and-ride — with another now open but often near-empty across from the fairgrounds — city planner Fred Evander said the city knew it would need that one near the outskirts of town, plus some additional space closer to downtown.

He said the CMA lot was a godsend: choice property on the periphery of downtown that city hall didn’t have to purchase, just share. Federal funds would pay for the fix-up, with a relatively minimal match on the local end. And the CMA Church agreed to pay 10 percent of the construction costs.

Evander stressed that the lot needn’t be devoted solely to commuters, though the “park-and-ride” label has stuck to the project at the corner of Sixth Street and Cascade Avenue, as the city has sought leeway for how the parking area can be used in the future.

That makes sense, he said. Opening part of the Langley CMA lot for general public use, he noted, would mean workers from downtown could park there (leaving more parking spaces closer to downtown shops where visitors could park), plus provide overflow parking for visitors to the Langley Marina.

What’s more, an analysis required by the state showed the project would be cheaper to build than constructing a new lot somewhere else, which would also take other land off the city’s property tax rolls.

Critics have said the city should abandon the project and look at getting grants for bus improvements instead, and also consider how noisy and disruptive it may be to neighbors if the existing parking lot is improved.

Marianne Edain said the environmental impacts of the project had not been properly reviewed, and raised concerns about the removal of blackberry bushes, increased noise and the glare of headlights from people parking at night in the lot.

“This is not kosher,” Edain said.

Neighbors were also unhappy with the proposal, she said.

“There is also the increased auto exhaust that they will end up breathing,” she said.

The agreement for public parking in the lot runs for 25 years, but Edain and others say the proposal is filled with flaws.

“In 20 years we may not be driving gasoline-powered cars or even electric ones,” she said.

Wahl said the agreement left Langley on the losing end, and said it would be an “albatross of maintenance” for the city.

“Langley is getting the short end of the stick, and the CMA is getting the long end of the stick. This contract is written all in their favor,” he said.

For city officials, some of Wahl’s criticisms were not new, such as the charge that the project pencils out to $9,600 per parking spot.

In a September e-mail, Wahl warned Mayor Paul Samuelson about the risks of the project: “Just one of those risks, by the way, is to have the city, with all its recent controversies about how it spends its funds, and debating its upcoming fiscal strains in a budget process, appear to be less than prudent with federal money and city maintenance/planning/hired-engineering funds allocated to the project.”

Wahl told the council this week he still has his doubts, despite the details that have been shared by city staff.

“I’m still very dubious,” Wahl said.

Councilman Robert Gilman said it didn’t make sense to “pull the plug” on the project just yet, adding that the council has time to give the project — which hasn’t gone out to bid — another look.

The current proposal could be the best deal the city can get, Gilman said. Or maybe not.

“I just need to know that,” he said.

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