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Grand plan unveiled for Langley's First Street | CORRECTED
An earlier version incorrectly stated the length of the property in relation to other roads.
Langley property owner Richard Francisco has unveiled big plans for two new mixed-use, three-story buildings on First Street.
After owning seven lots for two decades, Francisco said that right now is the right time to look at jumping into the fray of improvements in the city.
“I’m seeing some great things in Langley,” he said, noting the Second Street redesign, the expanded marina at South Whidbey Harbor and businesses like Useless Bay Coffee Company as adding to the city’s attractiveness. “For 20 years, nothing was really happening.”
Francisco unveiled his plans, which he adamantly describes as being conceptual, at a special Langley City Council and Planning Advisory Board meeting May 13. An estimated 50 people packed Langley City Hall to hear what he planned to do with the waterfront area that would stretch nearly from the Whidbey Bank building across the street to Boy and Dog Park.
Langley has a two-story height limit for buildings within the commercial area, but Francisco is hoping to get a variance and build three stories above street level. His concept includes a roughly 4,000 square-foot courtyard accessible from First Street’s sidewalk.
“If it was a two-story design and would encompass the entire length of the space, you’d have to take that into account,” said Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango.
“It’s difficult to say that a two-story building is always better than a three-story building,” he added.
The courtyard is intended to be a public space, though not officially gifted to the public. On either side of the courtyard looking over Saratoga Passage would be a restaurant. There would also be an elevator to reach Seawall Park.
Should the city deny his request for the third story in exchange for the open courtyard area, Francisco said he would eliminate the courtyard in favor of one contiguous building stretching nearly 215 feet long. He insisted that it was not a matter of trying to hold the view hostage, but that he wanted to have as much space as possible to sell and lease.
“That’s what we call a perk for the city,” Francisco said.
In all, he plans to have 14 residences, four second-story offices, four street-front retail spaces, two restaurants and one 28-spot parking garage that uses an elevator to take cars from the street to their space.
Costs for the two and three-bedroom residences, which range from 1,200 square feet to 2,800 square feet, are not yet known.
One of the major public benefits Francisco touted from his new plan was the creation of a retaining wall into the bluff that supports the waterfront side of First Street. He said it would help secure and stabilize the bluff while also providing a foundation for the two buildings.
“There is a reasonable argument that developing along the bluff, if done appropriately, could help stabilize the bluff,” Arango said.
From Seawall Park, an estimated 30-foot setback from the right of way would be made for the buildings.
Once construction starts, the building leased by Village Pizzeria would be demolished. Francisco said he hoped owners Paul and Mickey Sarkis would look at purchasing one of the restaurant spaces, but that neither space would be leased.
Francisco also owns the existing waterfront bluff building that housed the former Edgecliff Restaurant. It’s been vacant since 2010, a fact that’s left him subject to criticism. In an interview with the South Whidbey Record Thursday, he said he’s come under fire for putting too high a price tag on the property and that the past lease drove out a previous business.
But Francisco isn’t without defenders. Jack Ng, owner of the China City Restaurants in Oak Harbor and Freeland, said he leased the Edgecliff space from Francisco for eight years and had a successful business, so much so that he had to expand.
Francisco, hoping to dispel what he said were rumors about him around South Whidbey, said he loves Langley and Whidbey Island. One of the residences would be his, which he said showed he was interested in making it a viable place to live, work and eat.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “Really, this isn’t about the people of Langley right now. It’s about the future.”
Francisco currently lives most of the year in Mexico.
Langley’s planning board was estimated by Arango, the staff member who works with the group, to have a decision on the height modification in three to six months. In upcoming advisory board meetings, public input would be gathered about the possible allowance for a third story.