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Marina eyed for port office,

Paul Schell to expand Boatyard Inn

Things are going to get cooking at the Langley marina in the months ahead, and it’s much more than the arrival of the 400-foot breakwater from Bremerton in November.

Port of South Whidbey officials said they want to explore the idea of putting the port office in a new building at the marina, plus developing commercial space that could be rented out to marine-related businesses.

The port will take control of the marina in January 2009. But local businessman Paul Schell, owner of the Boatyard Inn, isn’t waiting. He’s proceeding with his own expansion plans for his land along Langley’s waterfront, adding two smaller buildings, including one for a common breakfast room with suites above.

“One thought is to add a deli for providing picnics for visitors,” he said.

“What I really want to do is create a culinary academy, taking advantage of the great chefs we have on the island.”

Schell envisions people coming to Langley for a cooking class and spending the night at his inn.

In five or so years, he expects to move into a small apartment at the inn with wife Pam.

“The future of South Whidbey is to build on a strong arts community, a winning strategy to capitalize on the rich mix of artists and craftsmen who live here,” he said.

Whatever happens on the port’s property will be sorted out in the future as planning for the waterfront continues.

There are a few hurdles to jump over first, however.

When a state agency provided property at the waterfront to Langley and the Port of South Whidbey 33 years ago, there were strings attached. In the agreement, the state said the property would be forever set aside for outdoor recreation purposes.

The wording is now worrisome, though, for port commissioners who would like to explore money-making opportunities for the property next to the city marina.

Commissioners talked about the 1974 agreement at their meeting earlier this month.

“We knew that the marina fell under the original recreational restrictions,” Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden said. “Thinking about how this impacts us, it’s important to strike a balance between commerce and recreation.”

One of the port’s prime mandates is to fuel economic development, and commissioners have long viewed their takeover of the small boat harbor as an opportunity to do just that.

Slinden stressed that the port needs to facilitate business enterprises, not compete with them, however.

“(It means) providing space for private businesses that meet the port’s economic development mission,” she said. “At the same time providing access to the water is another prime consideration for us.”

Port officials say they haven’t made any firm decisions yet on future commercial development plans for the marina property, but they have a few ideas that may need to be altered.

For example, the deed refers directly to lots 16 to 21 where the restrooms are now located. There have been discussions about moving them to provide office space for the port, but whether that would violate the deed is unclear.

“The port must have a presence there, meaning office space,” Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert said. “And leasing out space to business is a wise investment of public tax dollars.”

Tapert isn’t daunted by the deed. He said the port might be able to swap land if necessary, but added that public access at the waterfront will remain indefinitely.

“The document does provide for changes based on fair market value if there is a change of use.

“The water side has and will remain dedicated to public access and marine recreational uses,” he said.

Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle said the port doesn’t expect to use the property for a major commercial venture.

“We never intended the marina be a major commercial development that would in any way exclude public access,” he said.

“If it worked out that we could build and lease a small marine-supply store that met the needs of boaters but did not compete with anyone, that might work.”

“We’re never going to build condos down there,” Seitle added.

For his part, Schell understands the challenge of making retail work until there’s more activity at the marina.

“The port is doing important work that will affect the whole South End and we need to support them,” Schell said. “The key is to keep the scale right and not lose that small village atmosphere.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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