City council pulls plug on housing moratorium

The Langley City Council unanimously repealed the city’s first-ever development moratorium on a unanimous vote Wednesday.

The six-month moratorium was adopted Dec. 7 amid an outpouring of concern from Edgecliff residents about the potential negative impacts of new housing development in their neighborhood at the northeast end of town.

Council members said not much had changed since the council adopted the ban against new subdivisions and nothing new had been learned that would warrant keeping the moratorium in place.

“We have not come up with significant new facts,” said Councilman Doug Allderdice.

The moratorium prevented any new subdivisions in Langley’s “Zone D,” a stretch of land along Edgecliff Drive. The moratorium came after residents told the city they were worried that new development would exacerbate drainage problems and the continued crumbling of the bluff along Saratoga Passage that borders the east Langley neighborhood.

City staff had recommended that the subdivision moratorium be lifted, saying that existing development regulations and the environmental review process would protect the neighborhood from possible drainage problems caused by new home construction.

Two property owners, Gary Roth and Britt Fletcher, have had preliminary discussions with city officials about developing a 7.3-acre parcel in Zone D. Sewer lines would be a requirement of the development of that property, however, and Edgecliff residents earlier raised concerns that it could impact wetlands. Residents have also warned that storm-water runoff from new development would threaten the stability of the bluff, and asked the city to conduct an environmental study, a socioeconomic analysis and a wetlands study for the development of the 7.3-acre property.

The city has said conducting environmental or wetlands studies are premature because a development application has not been submitted to city hall.

Larry Kwarsick, speaking for Roth and Fletcher, said the pair expect to develop the property with a number of homes that would be “marginally above” the current density.

“Gary and Britt fully intend to be submitting a subdivision of their property following the termination of this moratorium,” he told the city council.

“They certainly, fully intend to comply with all local regulations and environmental laws and they certainly intend to engage the community,” Kwarsick added.

The council had acted rationally by calling a “time out” and approving the moratorium when so many questions arose last year, he said, but drainage problems in the neighborhood already exist.

“Moratoriums don’t cure slope stability problems, they don’t cure drainage problems,” Kwarsick said.

Forty people or so packed council chambers for the public hearing, with a few more standing in the doorway and leaning in to hear.

Residents continued to press the council for an extensive hydrogeologic study of the area.

While the city had earlier considered such an examination, officials have since backed away from the idea because of the cost — $36,000 or more — and the worry that it might not give Langley much more detailed information than the city already has in hand.

“A comprehensive solution is important,” Edgecliff resident Gail Fleming told the council. “The entire watershed and drainage basin must be considered. The entire ecosystem must be looked at as a whole.”

She asked the city to launch a comprehensive year-long study of the area.

Others agreed that more investigation was required.

“For all the homeowners involved, I think it would be better to study it now,” agreed Steve Kirkpatrick.

City staff has said that retaining existing vegetation in the neighborhood, better bluff management and a decrease in underground flows from septic systems by the installation of sewer lines will help lessen the potential for landslides on the bluff.

Langley resident Richard Bacigalupi agreed, and said development would bring sewers and a drain system that would take away water from an already stressed area. And homeowners inside city limits should expect to be connected to the city’s sewage treatment system.

“I believe that this is more of a political process than an environmental process,” Bacigalupi said of the moratorium.

“I understand the pain or the issues involved with people who may have to pay to hook up to the system or who may have new homes coming in to an area they’ve enjoyed for a long period of time as more of an open area,” he added. “But we live inside the city limits of Langley, not outside.”

“None of us that I’ve talked to worry about putting in sewers,” countered Louise Prewitt.

“We all want them. I’m piped and ready to go,” she said. “That’s not the issue.

We want help to understand and to fix what’s going on.”

“We have water problems out there whether there’s a development there or not,” said Bruce Kortebein, who lives across the Roth-Richards property.

“These problems exist even without development, and we need to do something about them.”

Kortebein said he supported the moratorium, but agreed that nothing new had been learned since the moratorium was adopted. He told the council that he lost part of his property in a landslide the day before the meeting.

“And so did our neighbors. But I can’t imagine how much more we would have lost if we didn’t have French drains, and if our roof rainwater wasn’t directed to a system of tightlines to the beach,” Kortebein said.

Kortebein also pressed for a major study of the watershed, so a baseline could be created so future impacts could be measured. The solution in the city’s report on the problems — blasted by some as disrespectful to Edgecliff residents — was to put in sewer lines, better manage bluff vegetation, and build more houses, he said.

“Nothing in this staff report gives me confidence that the city and development will prevent runoff and provide a safer environment,” Kortebein said. “The report is filled with numbers, not with a concern with neighborhood or quality of life. In essence, this report tells me to go away, that everything is under control.”

Mayor Neil Colburn vowed that the city would continue to look for solutions.

“It is the intent of this administration to continue to investigate,” Colburn said.

And council members said they had heard the cry for help from Edgecliff residents.

“It’s a bigger issue, and it’s bigger than Edgecliff,” said Councilman Robert Gilman.

Gilman said the issues raised should be considered as Langley continues to update its comprehensive plan, the document that guides growth in the city over a 20-year period.

He also offered a council resolution that encouraged the city to follow a number of strategies to manage surface and subsurface water in the area’s watershed, to adopt policies to extend the city’s sewer system and adopt a bluff management education program for residents. The resolution also included a plan to look at zoning changes that would cluster houses together so open space can be preserved in new subdivisions.

The council gave an initial, unanimous 4-0 vote to the resolution. The council also repealed the moratorium on a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Faith Bushby left the meeting before both votes.

Edgecliff timeline

August 2005: Property owners along Edgecliff Drive raise concerns about new development, bluff stability and drainage problems with the council.

Sept. 7: “East Langley Concerned Citizens” submit petition to council singed by more than 100 people who ask for a large scale hydrogeologic study to gather more information on water flows.

Sept. 21: Council votes to change requirement that property owners have two years to hook up to the sewer system if it comes near their properties.

November: Edgecliff residents continue to raise concerns about drainage issues and restate the need for a hydrogeologic investigation.

Dec. 7: Council adopts moratorium against new subdivisions in Zone D.

Jan. 12: Officials from the U.S. Geologic Survey tour the Edgecliff bluff area with city officials and others and later present a report on bluff conditions and potential solutions.

Feb. 1: Council repeals moratorium.

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