City council postpones Highlands decision

The Langley City Council postponed a decision on the Highlands, the largest development in city history, after council members raised a multitude of questions about the project last week.

Water issues and traffic concerns ignited an extended discussion about the preliminary approval of the development. Talk stretched to almost 10 p.m., forcing the council finally to continue its review until the next council meeting on Aug. 2.

The council’s preliminary approval would have given the developer of the Highlands the go ahead for initial on-site work, including clearing and the installation of roadways and utilities.

The city council was particularly concerned about potential impacts to the city’s water supply, as the development is planned within Langley’s wellhead protection area.

City planner Alice Schisel, however, said the Highlands will be a model for water resource protection. Residents of the new neighborhood will also help prevent damage to the city’s water supply.

Even so, Councilwoman Faith Bushby had her doubts.

“How do we enforce these rules?” Bushby asked.

The project will be the model development for the conservation district’s low-impact development project, Schisel explained.

The district has $75,000 to educate the public and implement low-impact development strategies.

But while it is great to teach the public how to live in a water protection area, Busby said, it was unclear how anybody would enforce the rules if fertilizers or other hazardous material get spilled.

Once damage is done, it will be too late, she said.

Mayor Neil Colburn said the city has taken necessary steps to protect Langley’s water.

“I feel we have taken all available precautions. We’ve held the developer’s feet to the fire,” he said. “This development will have more protection than any other project.”

Schisel noted the county’s hydrologist has said the biggest threat to water quality would come from septic systems, and the Highlands development will be served by sewers instead.

Still, some wanted more. Councilman Robert Gilman suggested that well monitoring efforts be increased to ensure water quality.

The council raised other issues about the project during its review last Wednesday.

The council also asked about the ownership and maintenance of trails and walkways at the development.

Ross Chapin, architect for the Highlands, said an extensive trail system is planned to connect the new neighborhood with surrounding areas.

The majority of trails will be public, though some will connect to smaller, private trails that lead up to homes.

Because public trails must be maintained by city public works staff, Rick Hill, Langley’s director of public works, said he was concerned that narrow trails won’t be easily accessible for maintenance crews with heavy equipment.

Wheelchair accessibility was also an issue. Not only must trails be safe and wide enough to navigate with a wheelchair, but the system must also be connected so wheelchair users don’t have to take a detour to get from one end of the development to the other, Schisel explained.

Gilman said he would like to see the walkways built around trees, which may mean that the city must be flexible on its requirements for 6-foot-wide walkways. The wider the walkway, Gilman said, the more trees that might have to be cut down.

Construction traffic also worried council members.

With the future of the proposed Fairgrounds Road into the Highlands uncertain, the council said that multiple trips of logging and construction trucks up and down Al Anderson Road would be unacceptable because traffic would significantly impact the quality of life for nearby residents.

Most council members said that the majority of construction traffic should use the new road once it is built.

The subdivision is the largest development in Langley’s history, with 53 homes on a 14.57-acre lot on Al Anderson Road. Twenty-eight single-family lots and three clustered home groups with common courtyards are planned.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmwheatley@southwhidbey

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