Council to review three-year contract for new hearing examiner

The Langley City Council is expected to finalize a three-year agreement tonight to hire a hearing examiner to review major developing permits and other land-use actions.

The move to hire an outside expert to hold hearings on subdivisions, conditional-use permits and other permit applications was prompted by the city's clumsy handling of Langley Passage, a 20-home housing project that was initially rejected by the city council but later approved amid threats of a lawsuit by the developer.

The council gave an initial thumbs up to creating a hearing examiner system in July.

City officials said adopting the change — which would remove the city's Planning Advisory Board and city council from quasi-judicial land-use decisions, where those elected and appointed officials must judge the legal merits of applications or appeals — would mean a more predictable, faster and fairer review process.

Many inside and outside city hall have been supportive of the switch, though some in Edgecliff, the neighborhood that opposed Langley Passage, have criticized the hearing examiner system because appeals would be heard in superior court, rather than by the city council or PAB.

Under the proposed ordinance, the PAB would lose its authority to review and make recommendations on applications for new subdivisions, variance requests, conditional-use permits and rezones.

Five companies initially expressed interest in serving as the city's hearing examiner.

Langley's planning staff have asked the city to hire Sound Law Center of Seattle.

Under the proposed contract, the city of Langley will pay Sound Law Center $175 an hour for hearing examiner services on an as-needed basis.

Work under the contract billed to the company's senior associates or planners will carry an hourly rate of $150, which drops to $140 for more junior associates and planners, and $60 an hour for law clerks.

If the hearing examiner ordinance is approved at tonight's council meeting, Ted Hunter, an attorney and principal at Sound Law Center, is expected to attend the Oct. 19 meeting of the city council to present rules of procedure and offer additional information on the hearings examiner system.

The council meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. at city hall. A workshop on the 2012 budget will be held at 3 p.m.

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