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Langley Passage developer won’t fight added restrictions

The developers of the controversial Langley Passage development said this week they wouldn’t ask the Langley City Council to rethink last week’s decision to approve the new subdivision.

At least, not yet.

Doug Kelly, an attorney representing the developer, Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, said there were no plans to ask the council to reconsider its decision, which included additional — and perhaps unnecessary — requirements.

Instead, Whidbey Neighborhood Partners said it was moving forward based on the recommendations made last week by the council.

“I don’t think we will be asking for reconsideration,” Kelly said.

That may change, however, if the other appellants ask for a reconsideration. The Whidbey Environmental Action Network and the Langley Critical Area Alliance have filed repeated objections to the subdivision, claiming it would damage a wetland in the Edgecliff neighborhood and increase the risk of landslides at a nearby bluff where opponents of the development own homes.

If the council is asked to reconsider its vote on April 5 by others, Kelly said they would then ask council members to revisit added requirements they approved that would handle stormwater flows from the property after homes are built.

City planning staff has said repeatedly the council’s regulatory add-ons aren’t needed. The development, according to city staff and scientists hired to study the project, say the new subdivision won’t endanger the bluff along Edgecliff Drive. The bluff is roughly 700 feet away from the northernmost home site on the 8.52-acre Langley Passage property.

“We agree with the staff,” Kelly said. “We don’t think it’s supported in the record.”

But the legal challenges to the new subdivision may not be over yet. The Langley Critical Area Alliance announced last week it would ask the council to reconsider its decision, in part as a hedge in case members of the alliance want to try to get a court judgement against the development at a later date.

Robin Adams, the spokesman for the group, said last week that the review process was “stacked against LCAA” by Mayor Paul Samuelson.

Members of the alliance praised the council for resisting “strong pressure from the mayor and city staff” who did not support the added groundwater restrictions.

“We are grateful that the members of the council saw through this and did not allow themselves to be manipulated,” Adams said.

Gary Roth, the developer with Whidbey Neighborhood Partners, said his initial reaction to the council’s approval of the draft plan for the project — which came after the initial environmental review was pulled back by the city for more studies, numerous design overhauls were made to the project for its handling of stormwater runoff, plus multiple hearings before the city’s Planning Advisory Board, and then appeals and a review and rejection by the city council — was that the whole effort could have been wrapped up sooner.

“It’s something I think could have happened three years ago, had the city, myself and the appellants sat down and kind of looked at what all of our goals and issues were,” Roth said.

Instead, it has cost tens of thousands of dollars for everyone to come to the same place, he said.

“I think a lot of it was lack of organization, I would probably say on all parties, including the city,” he said.

Roth noted the recent changes to the subdivision were ones suggested years ago, but rejected by the city, such as the idea to run the water and sewer lines along the public right-of-way on the north end of the property. City staff had proposed a looped water line along the edge of a wetland on the property, but that turned out to be one of the reasons why the council unanimously rejected the preliminary plan for the housing project in early November.

“We started out wanting to put the sewer and water down Edgecliff, and they asked us to change,” Roth said of city officials.

“And here, the whole time, the city council, especially Bob Gilman, thought that was necessary,” he said. “We are now back to a total reengineering of something we had initially done.”

The main problem, Roth added, was the internal churn at city hall.

“The biggest culprit in the whole thing ... is going through five planning directors,” he said.

“It’s a matter of not having a consistent staff to work with — although the staff as people have been very good people to work with — it was just that nobody could make a decision,” Roth said.

Roth also said the long and exacting process for the Langley Passage project has given him second thoughts about another building project in Langley down the road — but only to a point.

“I guess I would have to think twice if somebody brought me another plat to do in Langley,” he said.

“It’s not soured me,” Roth stressed. “And I still feel there is a very bright future in Langley, as long as a few of the opponents of development can compromise a little bit and see there’s a little good out there, if they would only open their eyes and see what it is.”

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