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City may restrict new development along First Street

Langley has concerns about protecting Seawall Park

LANGLEY — Councilman Robert Gilman avoided the “m-word,” but he hinted without saying “moratorium” that the council will consider further restrictions on development along the First Street waterfront.

The Langley City Council continued its discussion about shoreline development at its meeting Wednesday, and officials are dealing with two major issues.

On First Street, the city wants to make sure Seawall Park is protected while allowing property owners to pursue renovations that would prevent their buildings from eventually deteriorating and falling into Saratoga Passage.

On Wharf Street, property owners have pushed to get the city to loosen development restrictions and exempt properties from Langley’s critical areas ordinance. First Street properties are currently exempt from the regulations.

Larry Cort, the city’s chief of planning, suggested a number of ways to tackle the problems last week. The ideas include meetings with residents and property owners, changes to city regulations, more work on planning for the waterfront, amendments to the Shoreline Master Program, or a meeting devoted to design ideas called a charrette.

Gilman favors a charrette, an interactive process much like a brainstorming session, but one devoted purely to design issues.

But before such a meeting could take place, Gilman said he would like development put on hold.

“My concern is that something gets vetted that could cut off a unified approach to First Street,” Gilman said.

“Can we do something to prevent it?” he asked.

The Planning Advisory Board had suggested late last year a temporary ordinance that would prevent development in the Seawall Park area. It was rejected by the council then because the shoreline is regulated under the Shoreline Master Program and according to a Supreme Court decision, the state has jurisdiction and gets to weigh in on any regulatory changes that cover the shoreline.

Gilman suggested an ordinance that could later be revoked when it served its purpose, one that would not trigger state involvement.

Councilman Bob Waterman suggested another approach.

“We could declare it a historic preservation district. That would delay any demolition or construction,” he said.

Gilman, however, said the council should not make any decisions without first checking with the city’s legal counsel.

“We should get some legal advice on short-term fixes,” he said.

Councilwoman Rene Neff agreed. “Let’s do what it takes to prevent growth down there.”

Emily Day, a resident who has done much research on First Street properties, said restricting the owners on First Street from fixing up their properties was unfair. They gave a substantial amount of their land to the city to create Seawall Park in the mid-1970s, she said.

“Putting a moratorium on them wouldn’t be gracious to them,” Day said.

She also said she had researched boxes of old documents and found that the owners had signed “quit claim” deeds turning the backside of their properties over to the city.

Councilman Russell Sparkman said if the properties were deeded to the city they were safe from development.

“It seems the quit claim deeds are the paper trail that protects that,” he said.

Day also said that some owners are planning to stabilize their buildings in the near future, and that some owners hope to expand.

The focus then shifted to the marina area.

Gilman said a design charette for the Wharf Street area was a good solution.

By playing through different scenarios with property owners and planners, the city can determine if the results would be acceptable

Gilman said the group could explore development scenarios based upon historic setbacks, as the Planning Advisory Board recently suggested, as well as options that involve building into the bluff.

Cort will explore what possibilities are available to the city.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

Community Events, April 2014

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