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Inn, restaurant, elevator among Schell’s harbor ideas

Paul Schell sits behind a model of a possible Boatyard Inn expansion project as he proposes his marina improvement ideas to the Port of South Whidbey commissioners.  - Jim Larsen / The Record
Paul Schell sits behind a model of a possible Boatyard Inn expansion project as he proposes his marina improvement ideas to the Port of South Whidbey commissioners.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / The Record

Langley businessman and developer Paul Schell dropped some new ideas about the future of the Langley harbor Thursday morning at a Port of South Whidbey commissioners meeting in Freeland.

His appearance may have been expected but it wasn’t on the agenda, which listed project permitting and mitigation as the main topic. It was a rocky start for Schell when he saw a reporter in the room and stated it was too soon to write about his ideas and that “premature press will kill it.” He was told that was not possible.

“It’s a tentative potential site plan,” Schell said, clearly irritated. Port President Curt Gordon pointed out it was an open public meeting, and ultimately Schell decided to sit down and air his proposal.

Schell was accompanied by Eric Richmond of Flatrock Designs, a Langley architectural firm. “This is just for fun,” Richmond said of the three-story model building Schell presented. “This is the Boatyard Inn expansion.”

Schell, owner of the Inn at Langley, has a partner in the Boatyard Inn. His plan is to build a three-story structure on a vacant lot next to the inn. The bottom floor would allow the inn to expand, while the top two floors would become the retirement home of Schell and his wife Pam. Schell has wanted to purchase some port-owned airspace for the building as the property line was questionable, but backed off that idea when state regulators made any airspace purchase a time consuming, complex process. Instead, the building was slightly redesigned.

After Schell presented a number of ideas, the outcome for the public would look something like this:

Langley would build a viewing platform on Cascade Avenue at Second Street, overlooking the bluff. The public could walk down a short handicapped accessible trail or bridge to a glass and metal elevator which could carry eight people down to the marina area. They could walk directly to the marina or stop at a small cafe Schell hopes to build. He would purchase the Drake’s Landing building and remove its add-ons, leaving the original rustic “salt box” design.

The elevator would eliminate the need for the city’s long-discussed funicular from atop Cascade Avenue to the marina, and cost less, he said, while allowing visitors, marina users and workers to park uptown and still easily access the marina. Parking is the major headache when marina improvements are talked about.

“This is a standard elevator,” Schell said, estimating its cost at $140,000 compared to the funicular’s $250,000. It would cost an additional $80,000 to $100,000 for the “bridge” from Cascade Avenue to the elevator. The city already has some grant money for a funicular, a cable system that would pull a type of tram up and down the bluff.

“A public entity should own that tower,” he said of the elevator system. “It’s the perfect thing for the port to own.” The port owns the marina, the beach, parking area and tidelands, thanks in part to a tidelands donation from Schell.

Power and cable lines would have to be buried, an idea the port commissioners liked. Another idea was to move the public restrooms, a move the commissioners thought would be too difficult in the near future.

Costs would also be shared among private property owners affected, including the Boatyard Inn and the nearby Nichols Brothers Boat Builders facility, and Schell asked the port to pay its share even though it doesn’t have to pay taxes should a Local Improvement District be created.

Schell described the design as relatively minimal. “It’s more Langley style,” he said. “It’s got rentals, a restaurant.”

The developer wasn’t expecting immediate action from the port, just some sign of support.

“I want a signal,” he said. “If not I’m going to walk. It will only happen if we do it together.”

He did get some verbal support, with Gordon saying, “It sounds like it’s reasonable and doable and fun to look into.”

Commissioner Dennis Gregoire described it as “real exciting.”

Schell had already talked to Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy and City Planner Jeff Arango about the concept.

Arango later told The Record the plan would require “significant changes to the proposed zoning ordinance,” but noted it fit well with an earlier plan adopted in 2004. Height limits may also have to increase to accommodate the project, he said.

Schell is well aware of the regulatory environment that always seems to become more stringent from state and federal agencies.

“The fact that anything gets done is remarkable,” he said.

He gave the port commissioners one month to decide whether to get involved.

Meanwhile, after years of permit gathering, phase one of the port’s marina expansion project is about to begin. Operations Manager Ed Field said the contractor is bringing in materials and a barge this week, and work will likely begin Monday.

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