Langley ponders historic demolition rules

Sparked by the possibility of losing the Dog House Tavern on First Street, Langley took its first crack at hammering out the details of rules concerning the destruction of historic buildings this week.

The city’s Planning Advisory Board discussed what the scope and goal of the regulations should be for an hour at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday. The body’s task was ironing out the specifics of a six-month moratorium on the demolition of buildings on the National Historic Register, which was issued as an emergency ordinance in May. It targeted the Dog House Tavern and its owners after they asked the city about the process for tearing down the century-old building on First Street.

“What we’re going to come up with is going to be reasonable,” said Langley Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango.

Several advisory board members struggled with the time constraint presented by the six-month moratorium. Because it was issued in May, there are basically four months left before the city is required to set out standards and guidelines for demolition.

One of the longest discussions concerned the possibility of creating a historic district. Such a designation would be a blanket policy for the city to regulate which buildings could be altered. But it was deemed to be too difficult by Arango, who said there were not enough buildings that clearly fit the bill of being, for example, 50 years old and having historical value to Langley.

“We don’t really have the resources for a historic district,” Arango said.

Sue Walsh, an advisory board member, disagreed. She was also concerned that by not creating a design standard, which Arango said was the purview of the Design Review Board, that the advisory board was stopping short of addressing the problem of redevelopment downtown.

“It sounds like we’re putting it off, and I have a problem with that,” she said.

Only Paul Goldfinger, the alternate for the advisory board, spoke favorably of the Dog House Owners Charlie and Janice Kleiner’s plans to develop the lot. Having owned it and kept it vacant while working toward renovation for four years, plus at least a year of vacancy before that, Goldfinger said it was important for the city to see the location in business.

“I would rather see something at that site than nothing,” Goldfinger said.

“Every day it’s empty; the city’s losing out on sales tax,” he later added.

Langley property owner Lorie MacNeill said her First Street building, which used to house the Whidbey Soap Company and Wayward Son, has parts that are a hundred years old and others that were built within the past two decades. Many of the city’s buildings have been significantly altered, some losing their original facade and some being added to.

“Requiring renovation and restoration is so expensive,” MacNeill said.

The Dog House Tavern, located at the intersection of Anthes Avenue, was not the only building discussed by name at the meeting. Richard Francisco’s building, currently leased by the Village Pizzeria, was mentioned as a building that could possibly qualify for Langley’s historic register. Currently, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and the South Whidbey Historic Society have a historic register that gives them authority over changes to the building, but the register is volunteer only.

Langley City Councilman Thomas Gill, a past chairman of the advisory board, attended the meeting and told members they needed to consider that old buildings, often built mainly of wood, require more maintenance than new and modern structures. Speaking in favor of granting the city clearly stated steps for demolishing historic buildings, Gill also said the advisory board should require review of design plans for the new structure before approving its deconstruction.

“We want people to look before they leap,” Gill said.

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