Langley residents fire back over nightlife rules

Mo’s Pub & Eatery owners Maureen Cooke and Bob Trenchard, front row second and third from left, listen as their attorney addresses the Langley City Council during a public hearing Monday. The hearing concerned recently adopted emergency rules that affect taverns and bars in residential areas.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
Mo’s Pub & Eatery owners Maureen Cooke and Bob Trenchard, front row second and third from left, listen as their attorney addresses the Langley City Council during a public hearing Monday. The hearing concerned recently adopted emergency rules that affect taverns and bars in residential areas.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Langley City Hall was overflowing Monday with people upset about a set of recently adopted emergency rules that place temporary restrictions on a favorite Second Street hangout.

The crowd, estimated at more than 80 strong, were there to contest the new rules and their impacts on Mo’s Pub & Eatery. The tiny council chamber was quickly filled to capacity and people sat on floors, crammed into doorways and peered through windows to hear what was going on inside.

Attendees included local residents and patrons, business owners, a PTA president and a mailman; even visitors from out of town showed up to complain about the new rules and their effect.

“I’ll start a picket line next week ‘cause we only have two weeks left,” said Fred Dente, a former Langley resident visiting from Hawaii.

Sitting in the front row of chairs before the council were tavern owners Maureen Cooke and Bob Trenchard. Holding a petition that Cooke claimed had more than 860 signatures in support of her business, she said the establishment will be severely impacted if the temporary rules become permanent.

Not only will they make it nearly impossible to make any changes to the building, she said, but it will also hamper her ability to borrow money or sell the business in the future because it would be classified as a prohibitive use.

“This really hurts me,” Cooke said. “I’ve put my life savings in this.”

Emergency rules

In August, the council adopted a set of emergency interim regulations that address incompatible commercial uses in residential areas — namely taverns, liquor bars and lounges.

They were adopted by the council in an attempt to mitigate a wave of problems affecting neighbors.

Cooke and Trenchard have been considering plans to expand and the interim rules are a means through which the city can temporarily halt those plans.

Basically a moratorium, the rules are one of the few tools city’s can use to stop pending development before a building application is submitted. The idea is to allow time for thoughtful planning to address unforeseen situations, city officials say.

Although cities can adopt the rules suddenly and without adhering to normal noticing requirements, a public hearing must be held within 60 days. Also, permanent regulations need to be adopted within six months or a year.

Monday’s meeting was the public hearing and the large crowd took advantage of the time to make their feelings on the issue known. Many worried the rules would force Mo’s to close, thereby putting more than 20 people out of work.

Kathy Ireland, a bartender and a PTA vice president of South Whidbey Elementary School, argued passionately that pub employees spend their paychecks in town. She also noted, as did several others, that the pub is one of the few places in town where people can go after hours to have fun.

“It makes no sense to close down this establishment,” Ireland said.

The rules don’t require the pub to close but it’s now classified as non-conforming and cannot expand. Jeff Arango, the city’s planning chief, explained that rules restricting the placement of bars in residential areas have been on the books for years.

But, they are unclear and the city’s approval of Mo’s a little over a year ago was largely the result of a former city planner interpreting them differently than they had in the past, Arango said.

The Langley Planning Advisory Board is in the process of creating new and permanent regulations.

The adoption of the emergency rules, along with other mitigating actions taken by the city council to curb noise and parking problems stemming from the bar, led many to accuse the council of targeting the pub.

“It just seems unfair to me,” said Richard Bennett, a Clinton resident. “It’s not becoming of this community.”

Another man said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to live in a town that operated that way. Whidbey Island Soap Company owner Kimberly Tiller followed by saying she also doesn’t like what’s happening.

“As a business owner in this community, I fear to speak my mind often because I fear retaliation and that’s what I’m seeing happen with Mo’s,” Tiller said. “That concerns me greatly.”

The other side

Not everyone was dead set against the emergency rules, however. Victoria Locke, a Second Street resident, said she doesn’t want the pub to close but made it clear that residents are being impacted.

Noise until 2 a.m., people urinating in yards — these things are very real, she said, inviting anyone to come find out for themselves.

“It’s big and I would like anyone to come down, 10 o’clock and beyond, and put a lawn chair out there and see how real that is for us,” Locke said. “And it’s every weekend.”

Other second street residents who have been impacted were also present but several remained quiet. One neighbor, who was afraid to be identified, asked to be escorted home by police after the meeting.

She said she recently had a threatening note left at her home, and demands by people at the meeting for Mo’s critics to be identified so they could be contacted directly had her worried for her safety.

The issue had many tempers flaring. At one point, a man responding to comments from Councilwoman Rene Neff had to be shouted down by Police Chief Randy Heston.

Neff had been explaining that no one on the council wanted the pub shut down and said it was clear that many people erroneously believed the emergency rules would force its closure.

She also denied the specific targeting of Mo’s or vindictiveness on behalf of city leaders, saying the rules are broad reaching and meant to address future problems in other locations before they occur, such as issues that might result if the Edgecliff restaurant and lounge is ever reopened.

The man silenced, Langley resident Eugene Elfrank voiced additional criticism after the meeting of Councilman Bruce Allen for wearing a shirt that contained a profanity. It said, “I’m a senior citizen. Where’s my damn discount.”

Allen has been personally touched by the controversy. Responding to another question during the meeting, he said he was recently fired from his job at the pub. He was one of three council members who approved the emergency rules last month.

Allen urged the crowd to “sit down and relax,” saying the temporary regulations are meant to “call a time out” so a permanent solution can be found that will treat everyone fairly.

Other city council members also urged the public to be patient, saying the governmental process moving forward was the appropriate one.

In the end, the council declined requests from the crowd to take immediate action and repeal the interim restrictions but Mayor Larry Kwarsick agreed to suggestions that the Planning Advisory Board should work quickly to find a solution.

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