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Langley to hire hearing examiner to review new development projects

LANGLEY — The Langley City Council approved a three-year agreement Monday night to hire a hearing examiner to review major development 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.

Councilwoman Rene Neff said she felt uncomfortable knowing the city could face a lawsuit by either side in the Langley Passage review, and council members felt it would be best to put such decisions in the hands of land-use professionals in the future.

“Parts of the PAB (Planning Advisory Board) and certainly the council felt very inadequate making those kinds of decisions, since we don’t have a degree in planning, and we don’t know the law,” Neff said. “It got to be really dicey.”

“As a council person, I felt like I was in totally bad territory,” she added. “All of us sort of looked at each other and did not want to be put in that position again.”

The council voted 4-1 on establishing a hearing examiner system, with the newest member, Councilman Doug Allderdice, abstaining.

Councilwoman Fran Abel led the effort to put a hearing examiner in place.

“I’m delighted that we are at this point. Totally delighted,” she said.

City officials said adopting the change — which would remove the city’s PAB 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 new setup, the PAB no longer has authority to review and make recommendations on applications for new subdivisions, variance requests, conditional-use permits and rezones. Those will be handled instead by a hearing examiner.

The PAB will now devote itself to reviewing legislative proposals, such as amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan, the document that guides growth in the Village by the Sea.

The council also agreed Monday to hire Sound Law Center of Seattle to serve as Langley’s hearing examiner.

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.

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.

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