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Langley’s PAB chairman has big plans for the new year

Russell Sparkman will have a busy 2008 as the city’s Planning Advisory Board deals with shoreline development issues. - Photo courtesy of Fusionspark Media, Inc.
Russell Sparkman will have a busy 2008 as the city’s Planning Advisory Board deals with shoreline development issues.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Fusionspark Media, Inc.

Ladies and gentlemen — Welcome to the most anticipated boxing match of the year.

In one corner, Langley’s new code and zoning proposals resulting from the comp plan review. In the other corner, the many opposing opinions of the community.

And here is your ring referee, Russell Sparkman.

Langley’s Planning Advisory Board chairman and his four fellow board members will have to find the right balance between what’s in the rule books and what the community calls for while rewriting rules and regulations that will shape growth and life in Langley for year’s to come.

“There is a tremendous amount of conflict,” Sparkman said.

For months, the sheer mention of comp plan or development-related changes to city rules have filled public meeting halls beyond capacity.

Some voices are louder than others, though.

“I would love to see more community voice in this, especially from the business community,” he said. “I would also like to see more pragmatic voices.”

With as many different ideas about Langley’s future as fish in the sea, Sparkman said he likes to approach the task with an open mind and lots of patience.

“I try to look holistically at these issues,” he said.

And the often emotionally-charged community meetings are part of the deal.

“I believe that the root of the Latin word for politics is conflict,” Sparkman said. “The tension between opposing forces.”

However, Sparkman said compromises have to be made to find a satisfying outcome.

“It’s give and take. I bring that expectation to this,” he said.

To get there, Sparkman slips into the role of devil’s advocate at times.

“I find myself playing a role or taking a position quite contrary to what my personal beliefs are, to get that opposing argument out there,” he said.

“I want to see results that can be viewed as balanced and pragmatic. Because balance and pragmatism is the in between point of extreme views,” Sparkman added.

There is no road map yet for what changes will be dealt with first, but Sparkman said the Planning Advisory Board knows that a big year is ahead of them.

“Some zoning related things are easier to get through than others. Some stuff will remain controversial,” Sparkman said.

While a number of community members and even Planning Advisory Board members lobby for more time to sort out what the community wants and how the city can get its planning documents to harmonize concerning waterfront development, Sparkman said time is of essence in this case.

“The waterfront issue is one where we have to come up with answers,” he said.

As if dealing with this enormous task wasn’t time consuming enough, Sparkman will take on two other high profile projects in 2008.

His company, FusionSpark Media, will tackle two big, local projects this year. The company will reshape the Internet presence of the Langley Chamber of Commerce as well as the Island County Joint Tourism committee.

Sparkman said online viewers have much higher expectations today than most companies and public bodies can keep up with.

“In today’s world, the expectation for design, content, media on the part of the viewer has been upped by things like YouTube,” he said. “What you find on the Web must be well produced.”

Working at these projects will help tell the story why so many locals, including Sparkman, love Whidbey Island.

“It’s an opportunity to share with others what a great place this is,” Sparkman said. “Tourism is an economic driver for Island County as a whole. We want to boost that.”

“I am concerned about the economic vitality of the community,” he said.

FusionSpark Media is based in Langley. Sparkman started the company with his brother Kevin in 1999.

The company is known internationally for its unique approach to creating media experiences for customers. The company focuses on the art of digital storytelling and the development of inspiring, educational Web productions. Leveraging the latest digital technologies, the company brings interactive, multimedia productions to life through skillful integration of great writing, photography, video and audio, and stunning visuals.

This kind of expertise doesn’t come cheap and probably goes beyond the local chamber’s budget, but seeing the value a great Website can have in a tourism-dependent economy, Sparkman will donate much of his time to the project.

FusionSpark Media will be working to create an online business network for Langley chamber members using the Langley chamber as the hub. Sparkman wants to build an affordable model to get businesses the communications tools they need on the Web and through other media.

If the model is successful it can be reused at more affordable rates.

“The chamber project can be used as a template which can be repurposed,” he said. “It’s a goal of our to see how this project can help individual businesses.”

Besides his career and his local involvement, Sparkman also finds time for wife Noriko and his two kids.

So why does a man who could easily fill his days just tending to one of these challenges volunteer every last minute of his time?

“I’ve always avoided this kind of volunteerism on basis of not having enough time,” he said.

However, at some point he decided to take the plunge and get involved in the community that he calls home.

“I am always going to be too busy,” Sparkman said. “So I decided to dip my toe in the water and see how I like it.”

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