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Langley City Council to review waterfront regulatory changes

Planning Director Larry Cort -
Planning Director Larry Cort
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Langley City Council members will get a first look at potential rule changes for waterfront development at their meeting tonight.

The city council asked the planning staff at its March 19 meeting to create a list of possible code amendment options that could, at least on a temporary basis, help preserve the character of the waterfront north of First Street and west of Wharf Street, while at the same time retaining the potential to develop for affected property owners.

Even though that’s the goal, some of the parameters are still a bit fuzzy. That’s due in part because the new rules will attempt to preserve the “character” of the Village by the Sea.

“We haven’t gotten to what the prevailing character is,” Langley Planning Director Larry Cort said, adding that fine-tuning such issues will be part of the work.

After spending some time brainstorming possible rule changes at the council’s request, the city’s planning staff came up with a number of regulatory options. Cort said there are likely more, and added that Langley planners have no preference on which options the council should pursue.

Cort said the suggestions weren’t driven by a particular request other than the council’s desire to preserve Seawall Park while allowing nearby property owners the chance to fix up their aging buildings. The council wanted something quick and workable, he added.

No matter which way the city council may go, the changes appear to favor limited development on the commercially-zoned shoreline.

The options to be presented are mainly focused on the First Street properties, but some would also touch the Wharf Street area that has been eyed for intensive development by owners and developers in recent months.

One option on the list has been floated since the beginning of the discussion. City planners are suggesting that Langley’s “critical areas ordinance” be amended to tighten the exemption for First Street properties.

The town’s critical area regulations — rules that hinder development of environmentally sensitive spots such as steep slopes and wetlands — excludes First Street properties from no-build setbacks along the bluff.

The proposal being passed to the council for First Street would allow reconstruction only within the existing footprint of a building or allow expansion based on a percentage of the existing building footprint.

That’s along the lines of the controversial recommendation made by the Planning Advisory Board earlier this year, Cort said.

Planning staff also proposed establishing a rear setback for First Street properties that would be set at the original toe of slope that existed before Seawall Park was built. The no-build boundary would be set at a given distance from the rear property line and a certain elevation above the sea level.

Another option is to amend the critical areas ordinance to establish a toe-of-slope setback for Wharf Street. It would require developers to conduct a geotechnical analysis, or it would be set at the historic setback as determined by existing structures or at a certain distance from the toe of the slope.

Another suggestion is to establish a maximum lot coverage standard for First Street properties and to determine what a reasonable lot coverage maximum is.

“We already have this in all our residential zones,” Cort explained. “It’s like saying, ‘We allow a certain amount of expansion.’”

The definition of “reasonable” is in the hands of the city council, Cort said.

Also on the list is the possibility of amending height standards. That would help shape new development, Cort said, including establishing a new maximum height above Wharf Street.

“There is really no specific height limit for the area. What controls Wharf Street are the standard height limits in the city,” Cort said.

The collection of ideas is rounded out with a review of permitted uses on First Street that could lead to limiting uses below the ground floor to commercial uses only.

Cort explained that this was an idea from a council member during a previous meeting, but he did not elaborate on why the new restriction was needed.

All the proposed options are possible without changes to the Shoreline Master Program, Cort said, making them less time-consuming to complete.

Cort said he will present these suggestions during tonight’s meeting in greater detail and will use graphic illustrations to promote discussion and perhaps narrow the list to those ideas that are most useful or workable.

“It’s to get the discussion started,” he said.

Langley’s city council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

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