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Langley development will have to wait a while

Picketers against possible annexation of a portion of Coles Road stood outside of City Hall in Langley Wednesday before a Langley City Council meeting. Over 60 people were in attendance at the informational meeting to show their disapproval for the potential project. - Jennifer Conway
Picketers against possible annexation of a portion of Coles Road stood outside of City Hall in Langley Wednesday before a Langley City Council meeting. Over 60 people were in attendance at the informational meeting to show their disapproval for the potential project.
— image credit: Jennifer Conway

The message was clear. Residents of South Whidbey do not want a portion of Coles Road annexed into Langley, especially not without a response to their questions and concerns first.

At Wednesday night's Langley City Council meeting, over 50 people squeezed into the tiny Langley City Hall -- many sitting on the floor and standing in the hallway -- to comment on a housing development that the city's planner has estimated could bring as many as 100 homes to the city.

Two of the three prospective developers -- Bob Libolt and Jeff Johnson from NJB Development of Bellingham -- came to the meeting to ask permission to petition to annex.

On the council's agenda for the evening was a discussion and scheduled vote to give permission to NJB to submit a petition to annex the property, which the developers do not yet own.

Before the public had a chance to make comments and ask questions, Jack Lynch, Langley's city planner, told the crowd development in the Coles Road area plays into the city's 1999 interlocal agreement, under which Langley and Island County jointly administer the city's urban growth area.

Because the proposed development property is contiguous with the boundaries of the city, it must be annexed before high-density development can occur.

The big question for the night was whether a successful petition could give the developers the go-ahead to start developing.

Lynch and Lynn Hicks, Langley's attorney and administrator, explained several times that allowing a petition to annex does not guarantee the developers will be able to annex. After the petition, the city could ask NJB to modify its petition, or could reject it.

Applications for development would also be required as part of the planning process.

Lynch also described developmental guidelines that would be given to developers if they were granted permission to annex. He said the guidelines should preserve a scenic corridor by requiring greenbelt buffers, open space, clustered development, pedestrian pathways and a traffic analysis.

Libolt was next to address the council. He said he, Johnson and the third NJB partner, Cole Terpstra, want to work with Langley to come up with an appropriate plan for development that matches the character of Langley.

Many residents in attendance -- and even a few of the city council members -- felt delaying a vote on the annexation petition was an appropriate step for the evening.

"I couldn't urge you strongly enough to delay this," said Langley resident Linda Moore.

City Councilmember Bettina Fisher said she felt it inappropriate to hold a public meeting before the council was informed to make decisions on a vote.

"I feel we are in the dark," said Fisher.

Councilmember Jim Recupero's first concern was what sort of traffic impact the development would have on the Highway 525 and Coles Road intersection.

"That is going to be a bear," he said.

The public was allowed to have a question and comment period, but Mayor Lloyd Furman kept it to a half hour, since the meeting did not include a public hearing on the subject.

Once of the first audience members to speak was Langley resident Sharen Heath. She quoted the late southwestern American writer Edward Abbey, who wrote, "growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell." Heath wanted to know why Langley should consider such an annexation.

Furman growth is part of the city's comprehensive plan. He did not elaborate beyond that.

Langley resident Will Collins also spoke during the public comment period. He acknowledged Langley had agreed to absorb urban growth, but noted the city should take advantage of the opportunity to have a say in the development, before the developers were forced to develop through Island County.

Donna Vanderheiden, another Langley resident, said she felt a study should be conducted on the impact of the proposed development on schools.

After the public session, council members proved to be unprepared to vote on the issue.

"I have nothing bad to say about the project; I just don't that much about the project," said Neil Colburn, the city's mayor pro tem. "We got hit with this two days ago. I am willing to consider this, I am also willing to consider this in a month."

While some members of the council said delaying the vote 30 or 60 days would be sufficient, others felt it was impeding the developers' right to ask a simple question.

Council member Doug Allderdice said a delay could obstruct the rights of the developers, and would send a message to other developers that Langley opposes development. He said he would rather see development go through Langley and have a say in it rather than be excluded as NJB gets its development permits through Island County.

The council voted to table the issue for one month, until the Aug. 20 council meeting. In that time council members will prepare preliminary questions for the developers, submit the questions to them, and have them answered at the Aug. 20 meeting.

"I think we did the right thing," said Neil Colburn in an interview Thursday. "All we want is to be able to ask questions."

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