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Langley City Council asks for new approach on subdivision moratorium

LANGLEY — City council members are talking about scaling back the amount of work needed to lift the city’s long-standing moratorium against new subdivisions.

The city council adopted its ban against new subdivisions in June 2007, and again extended the ban on Dec. 7. The moratorium is now set to expire on May 7.

But that may not be soon enough for some. At the council meeting this week, Langley leaders said there was a sense of growing public impatience over the length of the moratorium.

Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson said concern has been growing in the community.

It doesn’t matter if construction is slowed by the sputtering economy; some see the continued moratorium as evidence that Langley is anti-growth.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of concern in the community that this changing of the process, or trying to adjust it, or postpone … it’s the message that this community is sending outward.

“That we don’t want growth and development. That we’re shutting that down. And it transfers into the business community that we don’t care about the business community.

“I have heard that a lot since the last meeting,” Samuelson said.

During a round-robin exchange on the moratorium, council members said there was still some confusion over what exactly needed to be done before the moratorium could be lifted, and one council woman stressed she didn’t want to be seen as a rubber stamp to the Planning Advisory Board, which has been rewriting the city’s subdivision regulations.

City officials have set out an extensive list of planning and rule changes need to be finished before the moratorium is lifted. The changes include a rewrite of the city’s subdivision rules, a new zoning regime, sub-area plans and other work. Councilman Robert Gilman characterized it as possibly “the biggest policy initiative any of us will be participating in on our time on the council.”

But others on the council said they needed a better understanding of what was absolutely essential before the moratorium could be lifted.

“I feel very uneducated about all the ins and outs of this,” said Councilman Bob Waterman.

Although there have been presentations at times, the policy issues at stake are expansive, and the council needs to know the details, Waterman said.

“But we still haven’t seen the detail of what the proposal will be from the planning board, so it’s hard to judge where that’s going. And we have three months,” he said.

Waterman noted the council has been briefed on items before the Planning Advisory Board. But Waterman, and others, said those discussions had been lost among the larger issues involved in the moratorium.

What’s more, the council didn’t need to finish the full bulk of work before the May deadline.

“Having the whole package is not a requisite for lifting the whole moratorium,” Waterman said.

Councilwoman Rene Neff said she wanted the council to have a more active role in the process. She said she would like to see the moratorium lifted as soon as possible, but said the city must be sure the changes in place are adequate for protecting the city against inappropriate development.

City Councilman Russell Sparkman agreed.

“I want to make sure we get it right,” he said. “We have to be protected.”

Samuelson, however, reminded the council that the moratorium, now 30 months old, was growing in unpopularity.

“The moratorium piece is not playing well,” he said.

“I’m not really too concerned that it’s not playing right for the next few months,” Sparkman replied. “I would err on the side of getting it right.”

City Planning Director Larry Cort suggested the council focus on one “high value target,” the subdivision rules, as the next step.

“The subdivision code, by itself, would do a lot,” Cort said.

Council members asked Cort to review the ramifications of completing just the subdivision regulations, and council members expect additional meetings in the weeks ahead to get more detailed briefings on the work as it progresses through the Planning Advisory Board.

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