Langley residents ask options for sewers

Nearly 60 people showed up at Langley City Hall Wednesday to make one thing known: They want choices.

One proposed choice came up repeatedly during the two-hour meeting, that between city sewer versus septic systems. During a lengthy discussion with the city's Planning Advisory Board, a number of city residents made plain that they do not want to be forced -- except under certain circumstances -- to pay to connect to Langley's sewer system.

With the Langley City Council in the audience, the planning board listened to the crowd as it waded through part of its annual review of the city's comprehensive plan. Packed tight into City Hall's council chambers to the point where some people had to sit on the floor, the public were there to offer their suggestions, as well as ensure they would not be forced to agree to any changes they found unreasonable.

The meeting specifically covered regulations on sewer connections, zoning and population growth, a look at the revised vision statement for the city, and an Edgecliff map correction.

But all the issues eventually led back to a single bone of contention -- the city's policy of expanding municipal sewer service.

In the context of the city's recent withdrawal of a sewer extension project planned for the Edgecliff Drive and First Street areas, the idea that all residential properties within the city must be served by sewers stirred mixed feelings from public attendees.

Edgecliff resident Rolf Seitle intimated that expanding sewers is beyond the means of many Langley residents.

"If you were to provide sewers for all the residential areas in the city, it would be a very expensive project," Seitle said. "Just because something is permitted, there are many cities who don't require it."

As was borne out in the public process for the most recent sewer expansion attempt, sewer hookups probably would have cost affected residents a minimum of $13,000 each. That cost can be deferred for property owners who earn 20 percent less than the median county income.

This, however, is not ironclad protection for homeowners. If, under the city's current rules, a developer builds a housing subdivision in an unsewered area, he must connect to city sewer. He may then assess nearby property owners for a portion of the cost.

Debbie Holbert, another Edgecliff-area resident, said the sewer policy could be detrimental to the city's vision for its future, a vision that includes a larger population and high-density residential development.

"Growth in this town is stagnant under this rule," Holbert said after hearing that Langley gains only about six new residents a year.

Holbert said city residents should always have a choice over how they treat their wastewater. She said it should be optional, in most cases, for a property owner to hook up to the sewer or not.

A number of other people at the meeting made it clear that they would prefer to treat their household wastewater with existing septic systems. Late in meeting, Sharen Heath stood up and asked the planning board to dump the sewer requirement.

"I for one would like the city of Langley to repeal that code," Heathsaid.

A show of hands on the issue proved that Heath's opinion was that of the majority: Approximately 90 percent of those raised their hands when asked if they would like to see sewering requirements abolished.

Planning board member Faith Smith acknowledged the numbers and said a strong mandate on the matter would have a substantial effect on her opinion.

Also putting the people and their representatives at odds was a possible zoning change that would allow 7,200-square-foot lots along a portion of Edgecliff Drive where 15,000-square-foot lots are the smallest allowable currently. Planner Lynch had to quell fears that the new zoning would cost residents more in sewer hookup fees eventually. He said sewer charges are made on a per-hookup basis and are not affected by the number of lots a piece of property could yield if subdivided.

The Planning Advisory Board plans to schedule a public hearing on changes to the city's comprehensive plan either in September or October.

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