Ideas abound for recycling old fire hall

The South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, the Chocolate Flower Farm, Russell Sparkman and a Fall City artist have suggested new uses for Langley’s vacant fire hall. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
The South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, the Chocolate Flower Farm, Russell Sparkman and a Fall City artist have suggested new uses for Langley’s vacant fire hall.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

Langley hears four options for vacant downtown building

LANGLEY — Four fabulous ideas. But only one empty fire hall.

City council members said they liked all four ideas for recycling the Langley Fire Hall that were presented at their meeting Monday. They also said they hoped there was a way to meld the proposals together.

The city has been looking for someone to rent or buy the fire station on Second Street. The two-story building has remained empty since Fire District 3 moved to its new station on Camano Avenue, and a prime concern for city officials is to find someone who can lease the facility at or above the $2,500 rent the fire district has paid each month.

Four groups are interested in using the building.

Marie Lincoln and Bill Schlicht of the Chocolate Flower Farm proposed a move in March to the building, which they would use for expanding their retail shop now located on First Street when the current lease runs out. Part of the fire station would also be used for production, wholesale and mail order sales.

South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District officials said they are interested in using the building for recreational and education programs.

Russell Sparkman, the owner of Fusionspark Media and a Langley city councilman, has suggested creating a multimedia arts center, and that the building would be managed by a nonprofit development corporation that would also use the building as an incubator for new businesses.

Cary Jurriaans of Fall City Fine Art Studio has suggested creating the Firehouse Centre of Fine Arts in the building, with art classes and lectures, a live museum and a gallery.

“I want all four of them,” said Councilman Robert Gilman. “All four of them felt really good for Langley.”

Councilwoman Rene Neff said all of the ideas were fabulous.

She noted that opening up the fire station for a new use would benefit the town’s economy.

“We’re in need of economic benefit,” she said.

“It’s a tear. We’ve got one building and all these good proposals,” added Councilman Bob Waterman.

Waterman said he was excited about the ideas that offered education components. He also liked the idea of continuing to use the property as a public space; the property is currently zoned for public use.

The city’s planning staff has said the proposal by the Chocolate Flower Farm would require a zoning change, and zoning changes were probable for the Firehouse Centre and multimedia center ideas. The parks district proposal would not require a zoning change.

“It’s public space, and I like the concept of public,” Waterman said.

Two of the proposals, from the Chocolate Flower Farm and the parks district‚ offered to pay the standing $2,500-a-month rent.

Jurriaans, the promoter of the Firehouse Centre concept, was not at the meeting but has told the city she would not be able to pay much during the first year, and suggested a “ramp-up” period where she would pay little or no rent for the first six months. Jurriaans also said the rent should be capped at $2,000 monthly, and said a shared facility with another user would be likely. Inside walls might need to be removed.

Schlicht of the Chocolate Flower Farm told council members their current store on First Street, owned by Dan Ollis, is for sale. Their lease runs out early next year, and Schlicht said the fire hall could be used to expand their growing business.

He admitted the fire station lacked the charm of its current home on First Street.

“It’s not really a cute, quaint thing like we have now,” he said.

Still, it could be improved to be a great fit for Langley. Schlicht envisioned a building with an expanded garden space in front, much like that at nearby Useless Bay Coffee Co., and said the store would fit with other locally-oriented businesses on Second Street.

“It’s pretty ideal,” he said, noting the farm’s manufacturing space outside Langley.

“You can only get so big in a little one-car garage,” Schlicht said. “We can only go so far where we’re at.”

Gilman said the idea would mean more jobs for the area.

“We need local production here,” Gilman noted. “The Chocolate Flower Farm proposal is just the kind of light industry that fits here.”

Gilman also said he hoped a place could be found in Langley for all of the proposals, no matter how the fire hall is eventually used.

“Let’s keep that bigger picture in mind,” he told his fellow council members.

Sparkman recused himself from the council to take a seat in the audience to explain his proposal, the Langley Multimedia Arts and Technology Center.

Sparkman said the center could be a magnet for boutique-sized multimedia conferences and workshops, and could include a community tech learning center. It would also be a business incubator, and a support center for home-based businesses that need office space on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis.

He also suggested forming a nonprofit community development corporation to provide start-up funds for the proposal.

“What I’ve put before you is big on vision,” Sparkman said, stressing that it would not be an extension of his current business.

Waterman noted the park district’s proposal would be a flexible use of the building that would serve all ages.

The park district has said it could offer new and existing programs in the fire hall, and was ready to move into the building in January.

Waterman said the parks proposal was a “ready to go” idea, but asked about the indoor archery program.

“Which way do the arrows go?” Waterman asked.

“Away from the windows,” said parks program coordinator Carrie Monforte.

City officials said the new tenant would be responsible for improvements to the fire hall. The parks district has said changes to the building might include the installation of storage lockers and the installment of a wooden dance floor where fire trucks have been parked.

Though council members said they liked what they heard, they are planning on holding their next meeting in November at the fire hall to hear formal presentations from the applicants.

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