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UPDATE: Developers reveal a new design for waterfront project

LANGLEY— Deja vu.

Nearly a year after they introduced their first proposal for a large mixed-use development spanning Wharf Street and Cascade Avenue, developers Nancy Josephson and Steve Day presented a completely revamped version of their plan to the Langley City Council and the community.

The new look, a much smaller version of last year’s design, was reminiscent of an ancient Mediterranean village nestled into the bluff. The developers said they attempted to create a “village in a village” consisting of cottages, small houses and a bistro, boasting green roofs, arts and crafts, and public walkways.

The council’s and the community’s reception of the revised plan, however, was cold.

“Your design is gorgeous. But I can’t imagine having that many residences down there,” said Councilwoman Rene Neff.

“I would have a very hard time rationalizing this,” she said.

Day said he wants to build 27 residences in the area that includes the Seabreeze property as well as Waters-Riehl’s land. The properties reach up the bluff to the Edgecliff restaurant. The homes would range from 600-square-foot cottages to 2,000-square-foot homes.

Day said the project would have to be at least that big to make sense economically.

When Day revealed an image of an architectural drawing of the design superimposed on a photograph of the bluff, a somewhat subdued “Oh, my God!” escaped from one person in the audience.

Langley resident Harrison Goodall was not a fan, either.

“This violates the village character of Langley,” he said. “We live here. This is our place of being. We don’t look at it from a real estate perspective, but this is my home.”

Councilman Robert Gilman was concerned about safety issues related to bluff stability and the amount of parking that the area can handle.

Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle said the massive in-bluff construction would interfere with the port’s construction plans for the marina, and other residents were concerned about the design not fitting into Langley’s “Village by the Sea” character.

Waters-Riehl, a Wharf Street property owner, urged the council to give the design a chance and consider the engineering and scientific work on the project that had been done.

Waters-Riehl has been working with the city for years to work out a way to use her property more efficiently. Current city rules are restricting her plans and her property is one of the parcels that Josephson-Day have an option to buy for their project.

“I think many communities would kill to have a project like this in the pipeline,” she said.

The Josephson-Day presentation was part of the big unveiling to the city council on ideas to solve the development challenges on Wharf Street and the marina area.

On Monday, Langley City Council got a first look at the outcome of several months of closed-door discussions among property owners and the city concerning the future of the waterfront.

In an April meeting, the city council had requested that the two sets of meetings be held between the city and property owners within the commercial stretch of the waterfront.

The purpose of the meetings was to fully engage the property owners to come up with potential design solutions and approaches that could be used to amend development codes, said Larry Cort, Langley’s director of community planning.

Attendance at the Wharf Street Group included all property owners near the marina, including the Boatyard Inn and the two transient lodging uses south of Phil Simon Park. In addition, port staff sat in on all meetings in their capacity as future property owners after the city marina property is transferred in January 2009 to the port.

The discussions were facilitated by Ron Kasprisin, an architect and professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington.

A time frame of six months was suggested as a reasonable period to report back to the city council.

The meetings kicked off in May and progressed through the summer. After four meetings, the Wharf Street group completed its discussions in late August.

Many liked the product of the collaboration, Cort recalled.

“We put that on the table and we saw nothing but vertical head nods,” he said.

The group had come up with an innovative restructure of the historic marina area.

Kasprisin presented a drawing that showed a 10-foot retaining wall along the bluff with a walkway atop that may eventually connect to a “mechanical assist” such as an elevator that would connect to Cascade Avenue.

He also suggested a land swap between the city of Langley and the Drake property owners so a small service road could be built along the bluff that would loop back into Wharf Street. The Drake property owners would get land closer to the water instead.

An emphasis was clearly on walkability as Kasprisin showed several walkways, including one leading up the bluff near where Drake’s Landing is now.

Langleyites had also been concerned about the future of the historic Drake House. Kasprisin had a solution for that also.

“It’s worth the port’s while to relocate it 100 feet and have a functional office building,” he said.

If that wouldn’t work for the port, port commissioners could consider keeping the house as a community building, he added.

Two port commissioners were present, but declined to comment if the suggestion was a viable option for the port.

Kasprisin also said the city should consider reviewing the zoning of the area as it currently requires primarily commercial use, but parking and infrastructure don’t support major commercial development.

“How much is too much?” he asked. “This is not downtown. We may want to reconsider the commercial requirement on the groundfloor.”

For the properties south of Phil Simon Park, which includes the bluff up to Cascade Avenue, three potential scenarios were presented in detail.

Cort said the city doesn’t advocate for any one particular scenario, but the presentation of multiple design possibilities in this location underscores the fact that development is largely limited to the two properties that actually include the bluff area.

• Design possibility 1: Allow development to the toe of the slope to a maximum height of 35 feet.

In effect, the scenario would duplicate the design direction available to other properties at the base of the slope (assuming relief is granted from the toe-of-slope setback). One simple variation on this scenario would be to allow development into the bluff to the maximum height of 35 feet.

Cort said this option would cause the least amount of disturbance to the bluff and limit the overall scope of the project. On the other hand, the relatively small amount of potentially developable area could limit redevelopment potential.

• Design possibility 2: Allow a second tier of development stepping up the slope to a maximum height of approximately 50 feet above the elevation of Wharf Street. The second tier would be located upslope from development built on the flat portion of the property.

This option would increase the level of disturbance in the lowest portion of the bluff but could allow parking associated with the development to be enclosed under the second tier. Some level of mandatory public benefit could be linked to this possibility.

• Design possibility 3. Allow up to four tiers of development stepping up the slope to a maximum height below the Cascade level.

This option would open up the possibility of introducing new development on most of the bluff slope, and would require the highest degree of slope analysis to avoid potential impacts. Higher levels of mandatory public benefit improvements could be linked to this design option.

The scenarios dealt with several city code issues that the city has to address to move forward.

Leading up to the earlier meetings, property owners complained that the restrictions on their properties prevented them from using them for economic purposes and they couldn’t expand their structures beyond the original footprint.

One of the property owners’ concerns was the setback from the bluff.

The city’s “critical areas ordinance” calls for a 50-foot building setback from the toe of steep slopes, of which the Cascade bluff certainly qualifies. Given the size of the properties involved, the setback means that every existing building at the base of the bluff does not conform to this rule and future expansion or new development is severely constrained.

In its analysis delivered early this year, the Planning Advisory Board recommended that the setback be established at the historic setback used by the current structures.

Langley resident Gail Fleming disagreed and said she was opposed to exempting the area from the critical areas ordinance.

“These ordinances are there for a reason,” she said.

Neff said later in the meeting that she was on board with the Planning Advisory Board’s recommendation and that she was willing to sign-off on the historic setback before the meeting ended.

Gilman was apprehensive of allowing people to build into or too close to the bluff.

“Dirt falls down and as public officials we’re concerned with public health and safety. Large elements of dirt falling down on houses with people sleeping in them is something we don’t want to see.”

Property owners, including Paul Schell of the Boatyard Inn, alluded to problems with the height restrictions.

There is support within the group for raising the height limit in the Wharf Street area by about three feet. This allowance would take into account recent changes mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the relationship between base flood elevations and the ability to acquire reasonably-priced flood insurance, Schell said. Several ideas emerged from the challenge observed in providing on-site parking within an area that is so constrained.

These included reducing the number of required spaces per residential unit or commercial floor space, reducing the dimensions of the parking spaces themselves, or promoting off-site parking locations for park users with enhanced pedestrian connections or shuttle service.

Josephson-Day’s proposal features “hidden parking” and Kasprisin’s ideas all included underground parking.

The Wharf Street group also raised other issues, including the condition and capability of Wharf Street to handle increased traffic and use; maneuverability for boat access, launching and parking; preservation and adaptive reuse of the Drake building; and mandatory “green” roofs to soften views from Cascade Avenue.

Langley resident Bruce Kortebein pointed out that the work did not resemble a comprehensive plan created by all, but a wish list. He doubted if all of the ideas were possible and could be supported by the geography or infrastructure.

Cort said the work is a starting point to come up with a cohesive plan.

“The end result has to work and each part has to work,” he said.

After the nearly four-hour-long meeting, city staff prepared the council for more to come. The north side of First Street owners went through the same process. “We expect that the First Street group will wrap up its meetings by the end of October with a council presentation to be scheduled soon thereafter,” Cort said. “Fasten your seat belts,” Mayor Paul Samuelson added.

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