Langley modifies megahouse rules

Stepping back from a rule proposed in August that would have limited the size of houses within the city limits to 5,000 square feet, the Langley City Council gave a preliminary nod to a regulation that would restrict house size without a concrete upper limit.

During a first reading of additions to the city’s municipal code Wednesday, council members seemed satisfied by a rewrite of regulations pertaining to the maximum size of houses built within the city. An earlier draft of the additions to the code restricted the percentage of a lot a residential structure may cover and pegged the upper limit — no matter how large the lot — at 5,000 square feet. In modified language drafted by the city’s staff and planning advisory board, coverage percentages remained in the proposal while the limit got the ax.

Under the redrafted rule, homes could cover up to 40 percent of a 5,000-square-foot lot, 25 percent of an additional lot or parcel measuring between 5,000 and 15,000 square feet, and 10 percent of an additional lot or parcel over 15,000 square feet. Jack Lynch, the city’s planning official, said the rule should keep new houses “in scale” with the generally smaller homes that already exist within the city. However, it is now possible under those rules to build a house in the city measuring more than 7,000 square feet.

Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman said the rewritten code additions allow for more freedom.

“I think what we have here today is much, much better and less restrictive,” he said.

However, the code editions did spark a lengthy discussion about the legal enforcibility of what have been dubbed the “mega house” regulations. Questioning city attorney Eric Lucas on the subject, Councilman Doug Allderdice wondered if the public safety and health benefits of such rules — as pointed out by Lucas in a memo accompanying them — were quantifiable and enforceable. Allderdice said an argument based on those standards was “fuzzy.”

Lucas said he does believe the public is safer and healthier in a city that has a strong feeling of community. Keeping buildings in line with the standards historically set in the city play into that feeling, he said.

“I really don’t have a problem with fuzziness,” Lucas said.

Under continued questioning from Allderdice, Lucas stated that a community does have the right to protect its “character.” He also noted that a number of communities have regulations in place similar to those proposed for Langley.

“In fact, we’ve studiously avoided breaking new ground,” he said.

With that, Allderdice accepted Lucas’ argument. The council voted 3-0 to accept the first reading of the ordinance change. Other code changes included in the reading set a new standard for private property owners when extending city sewers, require bed and breakfast owners to live on the property they rent, and make room for retreat centers and Internet businesses to locate in some residential areas.

The city will bring the measures up for a second reading and possible passage at the council’s Dec. 5 meeting.

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