Langley city council supports temporary demolition ban

Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango discusses some of the history of the city’s involvement with the owners of the Dog House Tavern at the city council meeting June 16. Only one public comment was submitted for the public hearing.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango discusses some of the history of the city’s involvement with the owners of the Dog House Tavern at the city council meeting June 16. Only one public comment was submitted for the public hearing.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Nary a hand was raised in favor of the Dog House Tavern’s owners’ rights to tear down the century-old building at the Langley City Council hearing Monday.

Hardly any opinions were entered into the record at the mandatory public hearing about the city’s emergency ordinance. Last month, in response to Dog House owners Charlie and Janice Kleiner’s inquiry about the process to take down the First Street building, Langley’s planning director and mayor supported a six-month demolition moratorium. The temporary ban specifically targeted the Dog House Tavern as one of the only buildings qualified as being on the National Register of Historic Places and located within the downtown area.

Of the one public comment offered at the public hearing on the emergency ordinance that bans demolition of historic buildings in the downtown core, it came from a non-Langley resident. Marianne Edain, a co-founder of Whidbey Environmental Action Network and a member of the city’s Parks and Open Space Commission, spoke in favor of keeping the building as it is until all restoration options are exhausted.

“Given that the Dog House has been the center and the image of the city for many, many years, yes, the city has to look at saving the building,” Edain said. She encouraged the city to define the parameters of the word “historical” and require that all “reasonable” options be explored before demolition.

“Langley would be a much more busy place with the Dog House,” she said.

Jeff Arango, Langley’s director of Community Planning, said the baseline for qualifying a building as historic is that it be at least 50 years old. That would include most of First Street, Arango said.

The more challenging definitions come with alterations made to the iconic features of a building. In the case of the Dog House Tavern, Langley City Councilwoman Rene Neff said people she spoke with supported the city’s moratorium and wanted the Kleiners to at least agree to keeping the First Street facade.

Several other council members who spoke said they heard only residents’ desires to keep the Dog House Tavern standing.

“I haven’t talked to anybody who wants it torn down,” said Councilman Bruce Allen. “In fact, several are pretty adamant that it stays.”

After working for years toward renovation, the Kleiners changed course earlier this year after withdrawing their request for a street vacation. They had asked the city for part of its right of way adjacent to the building – the space under the deck and stairs that are suspended over city property. Langley is bound by law from giving away a public asset, and the city countered with several options including the continued use of the deck and stairs, a land swap for property on the north end of the lot, and creating a public benefit like a bathroom. All of those were rejected by the Kleiners.

“It’s unclear why none of those options were workable,” Arango said.

While the city determines its authority over the building and the Kleiners wait, Neff said the building will continue to fall into disrepair.

“As it continues to deteriorate, it makes it more difficult to restore,” she said.

The same could be said of the communication between the Kleiners and Langley City Hall. In previous interviews with The Record, Charlie Kleiner said he felt there was a shift in Langley’s attitude about helping them restore it once Mayor Fred McCarthy took office after Larry Kwarsick. But recently, McCarthy met with them for two hours to discuss the issues faced by the city and the property owners.

At a May 19 city council meeting, the Kleiners requested a shortened moratorium, which Arango said was unlikely because the city needed time to develop criteria for the demolition of historic buildings. That process will begin today with the Planning Advisory Board meeting, the first step in Langley deciding what can and cannot be done to historic buildings downtown.

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