City council puts no-build setback rules at Seawall Park on hold

LANGLEY — A request by Langley’s Planning Advisory Board for an emergency zoning change was shot down by the city council Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, the Planning Advisory Board requested an interim zoning ordinance for a 60-foot, no-build setback for development on the Seawall Park waterfront.

However, the exact property lines between the First Street properties and Seawall Park are somewhat unclear and the Planning Advisory Board wanted to make sure that no applications are submitted to the city before officials can complete a title search and eventually change zoning.

Planning Advisory Board members pushed the council at its Nov. 7 meeting to approve the interim ordinance right away.

Council members said they liked the idea, adding that preserving Seawall Park was a top priority for them. However, they also wanted to check with the city’s legal team.

It turned out that checking with the lawyers was a good idea. The city’s insurer, the Association of Washington Cities, informed Langley this week that the ordinance would be “fraught with legal peril” if the city signed off on the ordinance, Mayor Neil Colburn said.

If the city approved the ordinance, the city’s insurer said it would not cover the city on any court cases related to the issue.

Langley’s land-use lawyer agreed and the council discussed its options in a closed-door executive session at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

Council members said they were still interested in the issue of protecting public space along the city’s waterfront.

“I am still interested in the same intent, we’re just looking for another means,” Councilman Robert Gilman told somewhat disappointed Planning Advisory Board members.

“The preservation of Seawall Park is still a priority,” Councilman Paul Samuelson said.

Colburn said the city is committed to saving the park, but it has to be careful as it proceeds.

“We got a letter from the Association of Washington Cities that said if we’re entering in any moratorium without consulting with them, they would not cover us,” he said. “But there is no elected official or staff member that is not on the same page.”

Among the unclear items that need to be resolved before action can be taken is clearing up the property line question and making sure that the setback would not violate the state’s Shoreline Management Act.

Councilwoman Rene Neff acknowledged the Planning Advisory Board’s concerns, but said that the change allows for more time to do research and touch base with property owners.

Residents have also raised concerns about a number of bluff-side buildings on First Street that appear to have structural problems; some are worried they may be in danger if the bluff gives way in the future.

“I am worried about the security of those buildings,” Neff said.

She said it will allow time to work with property owners and sort out how much space is needed under the buildings to allow them to secure and improve their properties while still allowing for a setback.

Planning Advisory Board chairman Russell Sparkman said he understood the city’s situation, but explained that the ordinance was recommended so the talks with owners and research could be done without time pressure. Potential development plans could come into city hall at any time, as well.

The Planning Advisory Board will take up another challenging waterfront discussion next week. Developer Steve Day will talk to board members about his vision for a development near the city marina.

He is the second developer this year interested in building at the waterfront. Colorado-based developer Brian Stowell got harsh criticism from residents for his vision of a mixed-use development on Wharf Street.

City officials expect a large crowd and have changed the meeting from its regular place at city hall to Langley United Methodist Church. The meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14.

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