Highlands draw praise, concerns

The Langley city council chambers were bursting with people Tuesday. Every last seat was taken. People sat on the floors and stood out in the hallway.

The official presentation of the Highlands development before the Planning Advisory Board drew crowds.

Some praised the proposed project, others were not happy at all, citing concerns about traffic, well water protection, affordability and the cookie-cutter nature of a planned development.

The developers — The Highlands at Langley, Inc. — gave a review of the project. The builders were represented by Rick Almberg, president of RDA & Associates, and architect Ross Chapin. Chapin showed a virtual model of the future neighborhood.

The subdivision is the largest development in Langley’s history with 53 homes on a 14.57-acre lot on Al Anderson Road. Twenty-eight single-family lots and three clustered home groups with common courtyards are planned.

Once the project is finished, it will consist of a variety of housing types, ranging from small cottages and townhouses to single-family homes, Chapin said.

According to the plan, 70 percent of existing trees can be preserved and the developers want to keep a good portion of open and community space. Yards tend to be small, but community spaces make up for that, giving an overall homogenous feel to the design.

“Yes, owners have property rights, but we also have a responsibility to public space,” Chapin said.

A new park, public trails system and walkways are part of the planned subdivision. In the center of the sub-neighborhoods of the development, a community hall serves as a meeting place for neighbors.

If approved by the city, the project must be finished in two years, but some parts may be completed as early as next year.

Chapin said that if permits come through as expected, the developer will begin with road and utility work this summer and start building houses in fall.

A model for low-impact planning

The Highlands will be constructed using the city’s new low-impact development strategies. City planner Alice Schisel said the Highlands will be the model project for a portion of the $75,000 low-impact development funds that were recently set aside by the Whidbey Island Conservation District. The money will be used by the city for direct technical assistance on low-impact development planning and design services.

Chapin said the developer will use safe strategies for storm-water management.

“The storm-water system is being engineered to recharge rainfall into the soil and aquifer,” Chapin said.

Homeowners in the Highlands will also be required to attend an educational workshop by the Whidbey Island Conservation Group about the science and responsibilities of living in a well recharge area, he said.

Many audience members called the project a model for future developments and were pleased with the design and usability.

Former Mayor Lloyd Furman called the project “a great addition to Langley” and commended the city government and the developers for doing a good job.

One audience member welcomed a development that offers smaller homes and lower maintenance and upkeep.

“People in their 70s want smaller homes, but can’t find them,” she said.

Water needs

to be protected

However, there were also concerns. The project is located directly above Langley’s well head, said Hal Seligson of the Planning Advisory Board. He urged the builders to take special precautions to avoid any accident that could jeopardize ground water quality.

“In the absence of a formal wellhead protection plan for Langley, we need to see what measures will be taken to protect Langley’s water supply during site work and building at the Highlands,” Seligson said. “There are too many accidents on large construction sites.”

Mike Hill, Planning Advisory Board member, said, “Here we are not allowed any failure due to the critical area.”

Developer Almberg suggested to add a condition to the proposal to not allow any on-site bulk storage of fuels and hazardous materials. The board agreed.

The city has determined that the development will not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment, Schisel added. That means an environmental impact statement is not required. The decision was made after reviewing the completed environmental checklist and other information, she said.

What are the traffic impacts?

Some audience members, primarily neighbors on quiet Al Anderson Road, expressed concerns about traffic from the roughly 100 additional daily vehicle trips coming from residents of the new development.

Chapin said no major change in the traffic quality is expected. The developer provided city officials with a traffic report prepared by Gibson Traffic Consultants. It analyzed traffic impact on nearby intersections and streets both with and without the Highlands project. Chapin said the report concluded that the affected areas currently have a level of service rating of A, and roads will remain at this highest rating after the completion of the project.

Noise and traffic related to the construction is unavoidable.

“There will be activity - no doubt about it,” Almberg said. But city ordinances will ensure that no drilling and hammering happen on weekends and during the night.

New street planned

A connector road that will be known as Fairgrounds Road is also planned. The new road is designed to release some traffic impact from Al Anderson Road. It will connect Al Anderson Road with Langley Road, and will follow the existing access road from Anderson Road to the city’s water tank. It will connect to an easement across a portion of Linda Anderson’s property immediately south of the Highlands development to where her property meets the county’s fairgrounds property. The final section of the new connector road will intersect Langley Road at the same place where the current gated entry is located near the southern end of the fairgrounds.

“We are continuing to work with Commissioner Shelton and the fair board to obtain the required easement on county property,” city administrator Walt Blackford said. “Based on our conversations, we are optimistic that the fair board will approve the easement when they meet on Monday evening.”

Some audience members were concerned about potential speeding and asked the board to consider traffic calming measures.

Still, no affordable housing for Langley

With 53 new units in Langley, many felt they should not be exclusively available to the wealthy retired homeowner-type.

“My mother and my daughter can’t afford to move to Langley,” Lynn Hays said.

Chapin said even though some cottages within the development are designed to be simple in style, they will be sold at market value.

Hays said too few homes that are affordable in town. The city is ignoring Langley’s need for affordable housing by supporting the new development.

“These are lovely pictures,” she said about the presentation. “But it feels like it was forced on Langley.”

She was critical of the development, designed by one architect, will lack individuality and that individuality is what gives a town the “village feel” that the Highlands developers hope to achieve.

Mully Mullally added that if Langley won’t push for homes that young families can afford, there won’t be any youngsters living in town in the near future.

Many echoed the concern about affordable housing until the board asked audience members to focus on the issue at hand and suggested that concerned citizens join the comp plan group who will deal with other issues.

Board approved project

After the public comment period and the discussion by the board, the Planning Advisory Board gave the go ahead for the project with some restrictions.

The board adopted the findings and conclusions contained in the staff report; requiring the Planning Advisory Board recommend to the city council to give preliminary plat and binding site plan approval to the Highlands with conditions of approval by the staff report. Those conditions are:

• The applicants shall work with staff to prepare a plan for protecting trees on private lots in perpetuity;

• The applicants shall work with staff to identify which specific trails within the proposed development will be public and which will be private.

• On-site storage of contaminants, whether during site preparation work, construction or following occupancy, is prohibited.

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