Funicular gets tacit Council of Governments go-ahead

Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango discusses city planning issues at the Jan. 21 city council meeting.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango discusses city planning issues at the Jan. 21 city council meeting.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Langley’s plan to move people up and down the Camano Avenue bluff got another nod in the right direction for a funding windfall.

Langley city leaders hope to get nearly $268,000 out of a county Rural Economic Grant request. The Island County Council of Governments recommended the city’s plan for either a funicular or an elevator at its last meeting Jan. 22.

“We believe they both serve the same purpose,” Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango said.

The previous plan was for a funicular, a track-mounted cart facing toward Saratoga Passage. Getting people and their belongings, which city council members envision as shopping bags, from the city’s downtown core to the marina was the impetus for the funicular.

“At this point, we are still favoring the funicular, though we are listening to the feasibility presentations and the architects’ drawings of Mr. (Paul) Schell,” said Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy at the meeting.

As Wharf Street, the road that connects First Street to the South Whidbey Harbor boat marina, has changed in recent years, so has the bluff transit plan. One key property, Drake’s Landing, went through a change of ownership and options to purchase, with each listening to the city’s interest in a means of transportation from the water to the city. Now the favored option is a public-private partnership for a bridge and elevator.

The bridge would reach out from Cascade Avenue to an elevator platform atop the Drake’s Landing property. Schell, owner of the Inn at Langley, has an option to buy the property and proposed a building that would keep the basic Drake’s structure. A cafe, two levels of residences, and an elevator that runs from the ground level up to the bridge platform are included in the design. Schell first proposed the idea at a Port of South Whidbey commissioners meeting in April 2013. At the time, he estimated the cost of the elevator and viewing platform at $240,000, less than the estimated $250,000 funicular.

Back in 2012, the city was awarded $232,000 to widen Wharf Street, but that plan was scrapped in favor of creating a way for people to get up the steep hill with greater ease. Langley may have up to $500,000 in grant funding for work on the elevator or funicular project. McCarthy estimated the total cost at about $877,000.

“We believe $500,000 will cover the city’s costs,” Arango said.

Either option would prominently display the landscape that Langley enjoys. Glass doors would face east, looking out toward the Cascade Mountains and Saratoga Passage, on both the elevator and the funicular, as well as the viewing platform.

“Views would be a major part of that proposal as well,” Arango said.

Should the elevator plan fizzle, Arango said the funicular could not be simply moved along the bluff to a different location. The Wharf Street property is a rare commodity, and a different location would also require partnering with a different property owner or the port for space to land passengers, he said.

“Essentially, we need a partner to be able to pull this project off,” Arango said. “I think the Drake is more of an ideal location.”

Work, however, would likely not begin until 2015. The city will present the project again at an Island County Commissioners meeting either Feb. 12 or Feb. 19.


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