Council kills Langley annexation

With a show of hands Wednesday night, Langley City Council voted unanimously to turn down a developers request for permission to even petition to annex 40 acres of property to the city.

At a meeting attended by approximately 200 people at the Langley United Methodist Church's Fellowship Hall, the council said no to NJB Development of Bellingham under pressure from Langley area residents.

Lynn Hicks, the city's attorney, began the annexation topic on the agenda by summarizing the annexation process. Langley resident Larry Kwarsick -- representing the NJB Development -- followed Hicks and explained the motives of the developers. NJB has not yet purchased property, but has its eye on 40 acres of property on Coles Road.

Kwarsick, Island County's former director of public works and now a land-use consultant, said the city had spent a lot of time and money to determine how should growth should be handled, and control how valuable resources are used.

"We really don't have a ton of property in which to grow and develop," he said of the Langley urban growth area or UGA.

Bob Libolt, a developer from NJB Development, then gave the reasoning behind his company's interest in building a housing development in Langley.

"We are real estate developers, and I say that not apologetically," he said.

Libolt said he and his partners Jeff Johnson and Cole Terpstra are residents of Lynden. They said they understand the struggle by South Whidbey residents to preserve the character and qualities of Langley.

"We are prepared to accept a 'no,'" said Libolt.

Council member Doug Allderdice summarized how he and many council members had gone to great lengths to decide what the appropriate step would be for Langley.

"It has been a very difficult decision," said Allderdice.

He said he felt Langley needs a UGA in order to manage growth responsibly, and permission to petition put Langley City Council in an awkward position.

"It's a very odd step when you think about it," said Allderdice.

He said it was important to listen to his constituents for direction.

"That opposition is a very important matter," he said. "It will come up again."

Council member Neil Colburn said he hoped the discussion over annexation proposal will help the government reconnect with the neighbors and citizens of Langley.

"In 14 years, there has never been a bigger issue," he said.

Approximately 20 members of the public signed up to speak during the meeting. All went smoothly until Langley resident Fred Geisler asked the three developers whether they were connected with Trillium Corp., the company that logged part of the Coles Road property in question approximately 15 years ago.

Libolt replied that he and his partners are previous employees of Trillium.

After Geisler made several negative statements regarding the way Trillium does business, Libolt, Johnson and Terpstra gathered their belongings and left the meeting.

In an interview Thursday, Johnson said they left because they felt Geisler was making personal attacks that were uncalled for.

"We don't work for Trillium," said Johnson.

He said they hadn't worked for Trillium when they were involved with the Langley property, nor had they ever been in the forestry division.

After everyone had a chance to speak, the time came for the vote for permission for the developers to petition to annex, just two hours after the meeting began. Mayor Lloyd Furman said he would ask for the council members to vote with a show of hands.

When Furman asked who was in favor of allowing the petition, the room was silent and many strained to see not one person on the city council raising a hand. When he asked who was against the petition, council members Jim Recupero, Fisher, Allderdice, Colburn and Ray Honerlah raised their right hands. They were given a standing ovation by the public.

Johnson said Thursday they are not sure yet whether NJB would try to develop the property through Island County. He said it is too soon to tell, and NJB Development will need to consult with the current owner of the property to determine what he wants to do.

"We're comfortable with the 'no' vote," Johnson said. "We think we were treated fairly."

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