Builders say Langley’s rules will increase price of new homes

The city’s new rules for creating subdivisions will drive up the cost of housing and scare builders away, experts in the housing industry have told Langley officials.

Public hearings on the proposed subdivision regulations will kick off in three weeks, and city officials hope to adopt the new rules by early April so they can lift the city’s moratorium against new neighborhoods that has been in place since June 2007.

Because the new regulations have been largely rewritten — and contain a host of new restrictions and requirements — city council members asked that the new rules be reviewed by developers with local ties.

Larry Cort, Langley’s planning director, said the draft subdivision rules had been given to seven island-based developers and contractors.

The city has received three responses already, with two more expected soon, Cort said. Langley has received detailed comment letters from Charles Locke, president of the South Whidbey Home Builders; Charles W. Crider of the Skagit/Island County Builders Association; and Ed Gemkow of Gemkow Construction in Langley.

The new rules are expected to guide development that will be designed to fit with the existing character of the Village by the Sea, preserve as much natural vegetation as possible, link neighbors and neighborhoods, promote diversity in housing types and the people who live in them and lessen Langley’s “global footprint.”

But all three builders said the proposed subdivision rules would drive up the cost of housing.

Crider said the new rules on street layout and design would lead to “roads to nowhere.” The draft rules require builders to make allowances for roads that would connect to undeveloped areas outside of their projects.

“How is the applicant compensated for giving up this land that realistically could be another building lot within the subdivision?” Crider asked.

Crider also questioned the amount of land that would be set aside as open space in certain subdivisions. The draft rules contain a range of open space set-asides that run from 45 percent of the property to be subdivided to 70 percent.

“I find it questionable as to why as much as 45 percent is required to be kept as open space,” Crider said in his letter to the city. “There is an enormous amount of conservancy land all around the city, and there are pockets of it within the city itself. Forty five percent seems a little much considering the city is asking the applicant to give up almost half of the buildable land after everything is taken for critical areas, set backs, etc. Seventy percent is also an exorbitant amount to require to be set aside.”

“Where is the compensation for mandated donation of land?” Crider asked.

Others also raised concern about the expansive regulations.

“I think that these draft standards may preserve so much character and open space (absolutely good goals) that development may be difficult,” said Locke.

Locke said there were many good ideas in the draft rules, but warned of the “enormous costs” that developers would face, which would result in “very high-priced homes.”

“I think that these rules could be used to stop development completely or make it very expensive. They could also make a very great and green community, with mixed densities and income levels,” he said.

Gemkow, in his letter, said the requirements for walking paths and alleys in new subdivisions would infringe on the privacy of homeowners. The provision that would require builders to donate a lot for affordable housing would also raise the cost of a house and home.

“Also, having economic diversity in a neighborhood historically does not work,” he said.

Gemkow also questioned the rules that would promote “community interaction” in new neighborhoods.

“I do not think that regulations should be social motivators,” he said. “If a developer wants to build a development that encourages interaction, that is great. There should not be requirements that force the issue of social interaction through design.”

Langley has sent a letter to more than 700 property owners to notify them of the changes to development regulations and the new zoning code that is being proposed.

An open house, “Shaping the Future of Langley,” will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11 at St. Hubert Catholic Church.

The first public hearing, to be held before Langley’s Planning Advisory Board, is Feb. 24. Neighborhood meetings will be held in the Edgecliff and Al Anderson neighborhoods in early March, followed by a second public hearing on March 10.

At Monday’s work session for the council, planning chief Cort said some concerns are being raised about the policies covering the amount of open space set out in the new rules.

“I can’t wait to see how you’re going to explain this to people,” Councilman Bob Waterman told Cort with a laugh.

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