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Residents urge rejection of Langley Passage development

Public comment on a controversial 20-lot housing development wound up on a unanimous note Wednesday night.

Just say no.

“Whatever you do, don’t make it worse than it is,” resident Bruce Kortebein said of the environmentally sensitive area where the development would be built.

He was among about 30 people who attended the Planning Advisory Board hearing in the Brookhaven community room.

Kortebein and a dozen other speakers dumped a pile of paper and verbiage on four members of the PAB in opposition to Langley Passage, a proposed development in the city’s Edgecliff neighborhood that’s been in the pipeline since 2006.

Opponents were concerned about increased water runoff, sewers, the loss of trees, damage to the nearby wetland and increased danger of landslides at the bluffs overlooking Saratoga Passage.

“This is clearly not in the public interest,” said resident Rhonda Salerno during her video-and-slide presentation of the damaging effects of water runoff already occurring in the area.

The development, on 8.5 acres between Edgecliff Drive and Sandy Point Road, is planned by Whidbey Neighborhood Partners. Managing partner for the development is Gary Roth, owner of the Roth Co. of Freeland, which specializes in building custom homes.

The plan is for 20 “affordable” one- and two-story houses built along both sides of a private road. Target buyers would be retirees, Roth said earlier.

Most of the houses would be three-bedroom, and in the $350,000 to $500,000 price range, Roth said. They would feature green construction including rain gardens to minimize runoff, with up to 48 percent open space set aside and all but a few trees preserved.

But opponents say that 20 additional houses in the neighborhood would significantly increase the groundwater runoff in the area, endanger the nearby wetland and further threaten the stability of the bluffs.

“Let’s make the right choice and reject this oversized and damaging proposal,” said resident Kimmer Morris. She said it’s “woeful ignorance” to disregard the impact of 20 more houses and 40 more cars.

“A development like this is a dinosaur,” agreed resident Mark Wahl, who urged the PAB to make a recommendation based on the merits, and not simply rubber-stamp the findings of the city’s planning staff.

Wednesday’s three-hour public hearing was a continuation of one late last month at which city planners and the developer’s representatives outlined reasons why the project should be approved.

The planning staff says the proposal fits with Langley’s zoning and more than meets the requirements for residential development.

The PAB is conducting the public hearing on the proposal, and will make a recommendation to the city council at the end of the process, perhaps by summer.

The hearing will pick up again later this month, when city staff and the developers will reply to comments made Wednesday night. That PAB session will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, at Langley United Methodist Church at Third Street and Anthes Avenue.

A fourth segment of the hearing is expected to take place within two weeks of the next session to address environmental appeals by two groups that oppose the development — Langley Critical Areas Alliance, an organization made up of Edgecliff neighbors and other Langley residents, and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, a local environmental watchdog group.

Langley Passage, east of Furman Avenue, is situated at the bottleneck of a 426-acre drainage basin just south of Saratoga Passage. Nearby homeowners have repeatedly raised concerns about water issues, especially the possibility of more bluff landslides.

The bluff along Edgecliff is considered unstable by the state Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Geological Survey has said erosion at the bottom of the hill caused by the water of Saratoga Passage is primarily responsible for the destabilization, according to a city staff report.

Local geology, groundwater and human activities near the bluff were listed in the report as contributing factors to the long history of landslides.

Marianne Edain of WEAN, some of whose members live in Langley, said that the wetland is a critical issue, and that developers have failed to address it adequately.

“It’s not the wetland it could and should be,” Edain said.

“The basic bottom line is a credible drainage plan. Where is it?” she added. “There’s a big list of things before this can be approved. Either deny it, or send it back for further work.”

Steve Erickson, also of WEAN, gave a 30-minute explanation of why the project should be rejected, and presented PAB members with a thick sheaf of supporting documents.

Erickson said the official description of the nearby wetland is “erroneous,” and that it’s actually larger than portrayed.

“We need to figure out what the impacts are going to be and how to handle them,” he said of the wetland. “There’s really no monitoring proposal for that at all.”

Erickson said that despite developer claims that the increased groundwater will be adequately handled, no one knows what that increase will be. He said new residents will water their lawns and gardens and wash their cars, just like residents of other neighborhoods.

He said the increased runoff will flow through the watershed to the bottleneck to the bluffs, increasing the chance of landslides.

“It would be making an existing problem worse,” Erickson said.

“The reality is we’re dealing with a whole history of people doing foolish things over a 100 years,” he said. “We don’t need to continue the mistakes of the past. It’s always easier to avoid the damage in the first place.”

The youngest person to speak was Marena Salerno Collins, 13, Rhonda Salerno’s daughter and an eighth-grader at Langley Middle School. She told of hours spent playing on the scenic property slated for development.

“Those were the best years of my life,” she said. “This will change my childhood memories.”

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