Wait until 2011 for changes, board advises

Planning group suggests delay on shoreline rules

LANGLEY — Recommendations from the Planning Advisory Board on what to do next about waterfront development could cost the city of Langley time and money.

The Planning Advisory Board wrapped up an extensive six-month review of potential changes to Langley’s regulations on shoreline development. The review was requested by city council in September and covers seaside development and improvements to existing structures.

The board met Wednesday to finalize the much anticipated report.

“The waterfront study is something we’ve been doing for six months. Originally, we were only granted 90 days,” said Planning Advisory Board vice-chairman Roger Gage.

“We’re finishing it tonight, guys. We’ve been dragging it on and on,” he added.

But in an eleventh-hour move, board member Fred Geisler presented an alternative to the draft report. The new document was later adopted unanimously by the board.

Geisler suggested, among other things, that the city should commission and pay an independent consultant for a citywide study on bluff erosion and coastal flooding. The study would take into account the rise of seawater caused by global climate change.

The study would determine which bluffs within the city need the most attention, resources and protection, Geisler explained.

Such a study would come with a hefty price tag, city planning chief Larry Cort said Thursday.

“It’s certainly not cheap,” he said. “I don’t have an order of magnitude, but it’s not cheap.”

Mayor Paul Samuelson said he is not in favor of spending public money for a report that would study mostly private property. The city often requires developers to pay for research or studies as part of their mitigation packages when they propose development projects.

“If council instructs the city, we will have to spend the money. But it wouldn’t be my wish to spend money like that,” Samuelson said.

“Come 2009 most of this property will be owned privately or by the port,” he added.

Geisler’s alternative also suggests that the city delay changes to the Shoreline Master Program until it absolutely has to, three years from now in 2011 when the city is required by state law to update the plan.

It’s unclear if city officials will agree to wait. Samuelson had stressed in a December meeting that work on the shoreline development issue was a priority for the city, especially since the Port of South Whidbey will take over the Langley Marina next year and has announced plans to further develop the marina area. Developers have also been eyeing the Langley waterfront for commercial and residential projects.

Samuelson said Thursday he hadn’t studied the board’s new report yet.

Property owners near the marina have complained in recent months that a no-build, critical areas buffer along the bluff has been unfairly been placed on their properties. Property owners along the bluff on First Street, however, do not have a similar setback.

With developers interested in building projects near the marina have asked the city to abolish the no-build setback.

The board said this week that major changes to the critical areas ordinance may require changes to the Shoreline Master Program, however.

In the area near the marina, the board recommended the city should apply an exemption to the 50-foot setback prescribed by the critical areas ordinance at the toe of the bluff that would allow for historic setbacks on existing structures so property owners can remodel or expand their buildings.

Cort said the historic setbacks are somewhere between 5 and 10 feet.

“The way it is worded it addresses existing buildings,” Cort said.

“It would have to be discussed how it would affect vacant lots,” he added.

All existing code that limits height and dimension would remain on the books. The Planning Advisory Board does not recommend exempting development from the critical areas on the top of the bluff, nor does it recommend allowing development on the bluff.

The board also addressed the preservation of Seawall Park.

The planning advisory board also recommended that the council consider refining the blanket exemption of the critical areas ordinance that covers First Street so that size and scope of projects can be further regulated in the future.

Samuelson said Thursday that he was pleased with this recommendation because it opens up the lines of communication among property owners and the city.

“What I care about is that we clearly define what our needs are as a community and the city facilitating this process,” he said.

The board also found that the preservation of Seawall Park and a vegetated slope on the bluff is in the interest of Langley. They asked the council to authorize a survey of the park’s boundaries and complete title searches that were earlier authorized.

Last September, the city council asked the advisory board to review rules that guide development along the Langley waterfront at Seawall Park and near the bluff at the Langley Marina.

The review coincided with the introduction of two projects by separate developers who have proposed projects near Wharf Street and below Cascade Avenue for development.

The council asked the board to suggest changes that may be made to rules that cover building heights or the mass and scale of new projects.

The council is likely to review the summary in March.

Before any permanent changes to shoreline rules are made, they would go through a public hearing process, Cort said.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates