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Board tackles toned down fair zone proposal

LANGLEY — Langley’s Planning Advisory Board is concerned about impacts that new zoning for the fairgrounds could have on Langley.

Fair officials have been pressing for years for new zoning that would bring all of the activities at the public property in line with city rules, as well as zoning that would allow year-round use of the property. Langley officials took the first steps this week on its review of its regulations covering the fairgrounds.

“Our concern is not with the existing round of uses,” said Planning Advisory Board member Jim Sundberg. “There are maybe three concerns a year, but also a thousand happy campers.”

Planning board members said limitations to future events should be explored, however.

Fair officials have been eager to get zoning changed for the property that is home to the annual county fair in August, saying that expanded uses at the fairgrounds are necessary to keep the fair financially afloat.

City planning director Larry Cort and fair board chairman Dan Ollis presented a shortened list of potential uses to the planning board Wednesday.

Almost two years ago, fair officials submitted a fair zone proposal that included controversial uses such as motorcycle races. Nothing of that nature can be found in the latest version of the proposal.

Cort said instead of creating a completely new fair zone, the city is considering an “overlay” zone. The property would continue to be zoned as “public use,” but additional, fairgrounds-specific uses would be permitted.

“We, as the city, didn’t want to lose the fact that it’s primarily a public facility,” Cort explained. “The overlay zone creates individual standards that only apply to the fairgrounds.”

Ollis said the county only appropriates money for capital improvements, but not for maintenance or operating expenses of the fair and that the fair association has to make enough money to become self-sustaining.

“It all flows through the county fund,” Ollis said. “But whatever goes in traditionally comes back. We don’t control the checkbook, but we do, if you know what I mean.”

One source of income is allowing events and other activities at the property.

The fair association has been doing that for decades, but it isn’t sanctioned under Langley’s rules.

“One of the things we have been doing is boat storage. It’s not allowed under current zoning,” Ollis said, adding that the city has been tolerating it, but that the fair board wants to “legalize” some of these activities.

“We’re trying to do what we’re doing with your guys’ blessing,” Ollis said. “We’re not asking for motorcross.”

Cort also said that even though some existing activities at the fairgrounds aren’t specifically allowed under the city’s current public zoning, things like 4-H activities or dog and livestock shows are permitted because they are tightly linked with the fair itself.

According to the draft document prepared by the fair board and fair consultant Norm Landerman-Moore, the fair is asking for uses that are already occurring, such as therapeutic horseback riding, but also wants other things like financial services such as ATM machines, rodeos, concerts or circuses, childcare facilities and a youth hostel.

Cort said the draft proposal has flaws because it lacks standards. For instance, a concert may be fine, but not a three-day rock festival.

“It’s the standards that regulate how the use happens,” he said.

City Councilman Robert Gilman agreed.

“What the surrounding community cares about is the impact,” Gilman said. “As long as the impact is low, the use can be just about anything.”

Ollis, however, noted the fair’s long history in Langley.

“The Island County Fair was in existence actually four years before the city of Langley was incorporated,” Ollis said, adding that numerous longtime fairs are being pushed out by new development.

“As we go down the road of impacts, we also have to stay economically viable,” Ollis said.

Ollis added that he was open to alternative ideas for uses and that the fair board was somewhat flexible.

“I don’t think the board is hammering down on any of these issues,” he said.

Ollis also said that standards for some activities made sense, especially for entertainment such as concerts.

“You definitely want to be able to control that,” he said. “I think it would be absolutely reasonable to have limitations.”

Board member Craig Moore said neighbors of the fair should expect some noise.

“The people who bought houses there probably knew what they were getting themselves into,” he said.

Sundberg said one limitation that comes immediately to mind was parking for bigger events.

Ollis said that visitors to most of the events at the fairgrounds park on site and parking rarely spills out onto city streets.

The planning board also considered restrictions on commercial uses of the fairgrounds, such as trade shows.

Gilman said too much of that could take away from the downtown shopping district. He said the city had intentionally centered all high-traffic commercial activity in the city center and only allowed offices and home businesses in the outlaying areas.

Sundberg viewed the issue similarly.

“Because it is supported by taxpayers’ money, we may want to steer into the nonprofit direction,” he said.

Sundberg also said it may be worthy of consideration to link a commercial show to a local sponsor. For instance, Virginia’s Antiques holds an antiques sale each year which would be appropriate, but big vendors without an island connection may be a different story.

Another concern was the size and duration of future events.

“There is the occasional Woodstock, where 10,000 are planned and 100,000 show up,” Moore said.

City planner Fred Evader said when considering a campground, which is one of the uses the fair suggests, open fires should probably be banned because the city doesn’t allow open fires except barbecues within city limits.

Evader also said security is an issue.

“I don’t think (Langley Police) Chief (Bob) Herzberg wants to patrol 100 campsites,” he said.

Other standards that should be considered would address issues such as odor, noise, bathrooms and sanitation, public health standards, emergency services and frequency of events, the planning board said.

The Planning Advisory Board will work through the fair board’s draft document and come up with a list of acceptable uses and standards for its next meeting June 11.

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