Keep fire hall public, Langley residents say

The city of Langley is pondering the future use of its downtown fire station. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
The city of Langley is pondering the future use of its downtown fire station.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — Langley residents told the city council Wednesday that the old fire hall on Second Street should stay a public building.

City council members talked about the future of the city-owned property and changing the zoning of the property so the old fire hall could be used commercially and thus generate more revenue for city coffers.

But the idea found unexpected opposition.

Langley resident Rhonda Salerno said she would like to see a community clinic in the 3,090-square-foot building. She said changing the zoning designation to commercial says that the city focuses more on income than the community.

“I’m a little leery of that,” she said. “To change zoning of something that’s public is a big step.”

Councilwoman Rene Neff said the city needs to see a return on its property, however.

“It needs to generate some income for us, otherwise, it’s not worth keeping,” she said.

“It’s my desire that whatever goes in there creates an economic boom and builds community,” Neff added.

Even so, Langley resident Wayne Boddie said before considering a zoning change, city officials should first exhaust all public-use options and approach Whidbey General Hospital about ideas such as establishing a community clinic.

“If you don’t get the word out, the only game you have in town is commercial,” he said.

The city council appears to be in favor of a zoning change, however.

“It affords us more flexibility,” Councilman Robert Gilman said.

Larry Cort, Langley’s director of community planning, said the zoning change couldn’t be done before December, which would limit the amount of revenue the city could receive due to a lack of a tenant.

Fire District 3 will move this fall from the Second Street fire hall to its newly constructed building on Camano Avenue.

The city will then need to find a new tenant or a new way to use the property to offset the loss of revenue from Fire District 3.

The fire district paid $2,500 in rent per month for the hall.

Mayor Paul Samuelson asked the council if it wanted to continue to rent out the space or sell the property.

Several parties have inquired about purchasing the property, and Samuelson said he expects one actual offer to land on his desk soon.

“Given the economic situation, continuing to rent or lease is in our best interest, unless it’s a gangbuster of an offer to sell that everybody just loves,” Councilman Bob Waterman said.

Gilman said he was not in favor of a sale, because the city may need additional space in the future for more office space or a new city hall. The fire hall sits on a large lot that measures 35 by 246.5 feet.

The mayor agreed.

“I want to leave some space for the future,” he said.

It’s also not a good time to sell, Gilman said.

“I don’t want to slam the door to this, but the general real estate market is not exactly thrilling,” he said.

Though some suggested moving the police department from its cramped quarters at city hall, Samuelson said that Langley Police Chief Bob Herzberg prefers staying under the same roof with other city departments because they share clerks and the receptionist.

Zoning of the property would have to be changed for the building to house any commercial activity. The structure is essentially a garage with two office spaces, and Samuelson said improvements are usually paid for by the tenant.

In this case, they will be significant, he said.

Depending on the nature of the business or organization that would move into the space, the city may have to help, Samuelson said.

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