Fleming earns regular appointment to city’s Planning Advisory Board

LANGLEY — The Langley City Council unanimously promoted Gail Fleming from her alternative seat to a regular position on the city’s Planning Advisory Board.

The confirmation vote at Monday’s council meeting went much longer than most, however, in light of a recent e-mail sent by Fleming to the city that raised questions about Larry Kwarsick, the city’s new planning chief.

City Councilman Hal Seligson noted that Fleming asked city officials to find someone else to run the city’s planning department.

Kwarsick was hired Jan. 3 to fill the position left vacant by the resignation of Larry Cort, but in Fleming’s e-mail to the mayor and council earlier that day, Fleming shared broad and specific concerns about Kwarsick’s ability to serve as Langley’s planning director.

“There is a serious question of conflict of interest, since he has a consulting business in which he represents developers,” she wrote. “Is it possible to perform an objective review of development applications when he is so positioned in the community?”

Kwarsick also serves as a contract planner for the city of Coupeville, and owns a private consulting business called Sound Planning Services. His $30,000 contract with Langley runs for one year.

Fleming’s more specific complaint in her e-mail centered on Langley Passage, the controversial housing project that the Planning Advisory Board and the city council rejected late last year. Fleming has been an opponent of the 20-home subdivision, and has been involved with the Langley Critical Area Alliance, a group of Edgecliff residents who are fighting the project on legal grounds.

Fleming noted Kwarsick had worked for the developer of Langley Passage, and wondered about his influence if the city received a new development application.

Fleming also warned about Kwarsick’s ability to create new regulations.

“Writing code is apparently not his forte. Since writing and adopting a new subdivision and zoning code is a high priority for the city, is he an appropriate choice for interim planner?” she asked in her letter.

At this week’s council meeting, an oft-made concern about a lack of diverse views on the city’s advisory boards resurfaced amid discussion that Fleming was already a member of another city board. Fleming also serves on Langley’s Parks & Open Space Commission.

Seligson also recalled Fleming’s recent e-mail, and asked if she would still be able to work cooperatively with Kwarsick and have confidence in him as Langley’s new planning director.

Some said they had no doubt Fleming was up to the task.

Planning Advisory Board Chairman Jim Sundberg praised her work on the PAB as an alternate member, and her abilities as an independent thinker.

“She just jumps in and does her homework,” he said.

Fleming was not at Monday’s council meeting. Contacted later, she said her concerns about Kwarsick’s future involvement with Langley Passage were resolved by a section of the contract that covers conflicts of interest.

“I like Larry and I think we get along great,” she said. “It’s going to be fun to work with him.”

Fleming said she didn’t think her position on two boards was crowding out other potential volunteers. Committee members come and go, she said.

“There’s plenty of opportunity for people to serve on those boards if they want to,” Fleming said.

Toggling between positions on two city boards created a sort of “cross fertilization” benefit, Fleming said, since there was overlap in some of the matters taken up by both the PAB and the parks commission.

At this week’s meeting, the council also unanimously confirmed two other appointments made by the mayor.

Marilyn Helsel was reappointed to the cemetery board, and James Tully was reappointed to the library board.

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