Grassroots group pushes bluff issues

City needs to take action in Edgecliff area, alliance says

LANGLEY — Years of talk about bluff instability has finally gone to the dogs.

The Langley Critical Area Alliance is inviting the public to join the group at “Dogs for Drainage,” an educational outreach program that will focus on protecting Langley’s bluffs and wetlands.

Members of the alliance are inviting the community to walk their dogs on Edgecliff Drive at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24 to learn about the challenges along Edgecliff and the implications of the current stormwater drainage system along the top of the bluff. Walkers will gather at 678 Edgecliff Drive.

The walk-and-talk is the first in a series of events planned to share information about protecting bluff and wetlands systems in Langley.

In recent years, the Langley Critical Area Alliance — a group of Edgecliff neighbors and concerned citizens — has warned about the potential impacts of development on the fragile bluff on the northeast end of town.

The group has called for improving the drainage situation and has also pushed for a hydrogeological study and limited development in the area.

Even though the neighbors have been lobbying the city since 2005, not much has changed, however. And a proposed 20-home development that’s pending approval makes them a bit nervous.

Neighbors said the problem is quite obvious - especially during the past wet and rainy winter.

“People’s properties are flooded sometimes,” Edgecliff resident Gail Fleming said.

“One neighbor has a pump going under her garage continually — otherwise it floods,” she added.

“If you come down here on a rainy day you can see how the water runs,” added Steve Kirkpatrick, another Edgecliff neighbor.

Residents in the neighborhood said 20 new homes would make the situation worse and could possibly damage the wetland environment.

The city is well aware of the problematic nature of development on the bluff. Last year, the city organized a workshop for bluff residents to higwhlight what could be done to protect the bluff.

“There has been a history of unstable bluff in that area,” said city planner Larry Cort.

Also, there are two significant drainage basins that funnel to two points on the bluff, Cort added.

Another issue is historical development in the area. Cort said that the homes and Edgcliff Drive itself may have contributed to some of the problems.

Bruce Kortebein, a neighbor who has done extensive research on the water flow situation, said it’s not that the city hasn’t taken the neighbors’ concerns seriously. It’s just that the problem hasn’t been fixed.

“We haven’t been ignored. Any number of emotional and practical concerns have been expressed,” he said.

However, the neighbors aren’t satisfied with the current situation and feel threatened by the pending development application.

“It’s about protecting the environment. I have the confidence our neighborhood can work with the city,” Fleming said.

“We want to make sure any development enhances life in our neighborhood,” she said.

The proposed development just above a wetland on a pie-shaped piece of property on Edgecliff Drive is still on hold at city hall.

Last year, a short-lived moratorium prevented any new subdivisions in Langley’s “Zone D,” the stretch of land along Edgecliff Drive.

The building ban came after residents told the city they were worried that new development would exacerbate drainage problems and the continued crumbling of the bluff along Saratoga Passage that borders the east Langley neighborhood.

The city council later lifted the the subdivision moratorium, saying that existing development regulations and the environmental review process would protect the neighborhood from possible drainage problems caused by the construction of new homes.

The development proposal that led to last year’s talk of bluff instability is still under review by the city. Langley has not approved the development yet, but instead sent a request to the developer for more information before the application would be deemed as complete.

Some neighbors say that the wetland on the property already took a serious hit when a house was dragged across it during a move years ago.

The flora and fauna never really recovered, neighbors said.

“I have not heard any frogs this year for the first time in 27 years,” Fleming said.

Neighbors fear that storm-water runoff from new development would further damage the wetland and threaten the stability of the bluff.

Kirkpatrick said one of the concerns is that the additional run-off from roofs and driveways will overwhelm the drainage system. Storm water needs to have a way to slowly drain into the ground.

“Reduce impervious surface area with a plan for clustered housing that has a minimum 40 percent open space within the area to be developed, not including the wetland and buffer,” he said.

Some neighbors want drainage problems solved before more development is approved by the city.

“We need to remedy what is already not working before we start something else,” Fleming said.

Kortebein added that the neighborhood has already an outdated drainage system that doesn’t work for the homes in the area.

“The ditch and the county outflow seem to be part of the drainage plan,” he said.

The ditch begins on the north edge of the existing wetland on the south side of Edgecliff Drive and runs east past the city boundary line and ends going over the bluff. The city has called it part of the storm-drainage system, Kortebein said.

“It is the city’s responsibility to provide its residents with storm drainage,” Fleming said.

“We have been paying for it for years on our water bills. What we have is a ditch that can’t handle the job leading to a substandard outfall into the Sound,” she added.

Fleming said she has no idea how much an adequate system would cost.

The current comprehensive plan has an estimated cost of $40,000 to improve the Edgecliff ditch/culvert, but that was from the 1994 Stormwater Management Plan, Fleming added.

Cort said the housing development is not even close to approval, and the city is still waiting to hear back from the developer.

“The ball is in the applicant’s court,” he said.

The information requested by the city included more details on the wetland on the property.

Two wetland studies have already been completed for the property, but the reports also include discrepancies about the wetland’s boundaries.

An independent review of the wetland said the wetland was slightly larger than what was depicted on the delineation provided by the applicant’s wetland biologist. The earlier study also did not adequately describe the existing functions of the wetland and it might be affected by the proposed development, Cort said.

“We have asked for this additional information and we were satisfied with the peer review by Steward and Associates,” he added.

Edgecliff neighbors have long called for a more comprehensive view, and have lobbied for a hydrological study of the area.

“We just want the city to be 175 percent sure,” Kortebein said.

“We live in a sensitive critical land use area with storm-water drainage problems as acknowledged by the USGS [SPELL OUT], our mayor, council and city staff. This area has never been the subject of a hydrogeologic study and therefore no findings have been available for review of development proposals for storm water drainage control,” he said.

“I am sure the developer wants to make sure his development will relieve the existing storm drainage problems. But to do that he would need a complete in-depth study of this unique area and its hydrogeologic pre-development condition, surface and subsurface water flow and ultimately the condition of the unstable bluffs,” Kortebein said.

Cort said that the city’s engineer, Ryan Goodman, has found that the hydrological study would provide little information that would be relevant to the proposed development and the drainage system proposed for the new homes.

And while the study would carry a significant price tag, the city would not shy away from requiring one if it was needed, Cort said.

“If the study was required, the cost would be passed on to the developer,” Cort said.

Cort said the project as proposed by the developer would be required to follow existing city regulations. Langley also expects the Edgecliff area to grow in the yeas ahead.

“The density is consistent with what we have in our current comp plan,” he said.

Many neighbors hope the comp plan process and resulting changes to city policies could slow development in the area.

Kortebein said the watershed and bluff stability is a problem that affects all Langlyites and fixing it should be a comp plan priority.

“There is a watershed and bluff committee. Reports and issues raised by this committee are being integrated with umteen other important issues,” Kortebein said.

“In my humble opinion the major concern we all should have is water and all else fall under and within this all important overarching environmental reality,” he added.

City officials promised to keep the bluff neighborhood on the radar after the housing moratorium was suspended last year. Even though the comp plan group has not presented amendments to the comp plan that focus on the Edgecliff area, it doesn’t mean it isn’t something they are working on.

“Just because the wheels are grinding slowly, doesn’t mean we’re not aware of it,” said Counciman Robert Gilman.

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