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Langley Passage builder pitches affordable homes

A new home in what could be the city’s newest neighborhood for just $150,000?

Proponents of the Langley Passage project dangled that possibility before the city’s Planning Advisory Board as they got their first chance in nearly a month to defend their controversial housing development.

The oft-delayed hearing for the 20-lot subdivision restarted Wednesday with the surprise offer. Gary Roth of Whidbey Neighborhood Partners said Langley Passage would donate two lots to the nonprofit organization Saratoga Community Housing. Roth said his company would build the homes, which would be sold for roughly $150,000.

“It’s affordability to people like our school teachers, who can’t go out and buy a home because they’re starting at $450,000,” he said.

Other houses in the subdivision would range from about $250,000 to view homes that would be priced in the $450,000 range, he said.

“Due to our current economic conditions, we’ve put a lot of thought into making it even more affordable,” Roth said of the project, noting that many people can’t afford to live in Langley.

Roth also tackled other concerns that have fueled opposition to the development. He said it wasn’t a “cookie-cutter” project as some have said, noting that roundabouts would be placed in the development’s single roadway to save two huge cedar trees.

All told, just six trees would be taken down as homes are built, he said.

Several members of the Planning Advisory Board, however, brought up issues outside the developer’s control.

Julie Buktenica said she didn’t think the housing project was in the public interest because there were other developments in Langley with houses that had gone unsold.

“I hear that this is in the public interest, but then I look around and see areas where there have been houses built and they are not selling,” she said.

“In my mind, I don’t really see that this is in the public interest.

“I just see it adding to the glut,” Buktenica said.

PAB member Roger Gage asked Roth if he could build fewer homes in the subdivision.

“Would you or could you consider a smaller scale? Less houses, less than the 20?” Gage asked.

“The answer would be sure,” Roth replied.

“And there goes your affordability,” he added. “Now we’re back up to half-million-dollar houses.”

City regulations would allow up to 30 homes on the 8.52-acre site, but Roth said they wanted to have larger lots and fewer houses.

“We didn’t want to make a bunch of cracker boxes and cram them all in together,” he said.

Roth also noted that some of the city’s newest homes have not sold because the developers of those projects bought the land for their subdivisions at the peak of the market, while the low cost paid for the Langley Passage property years ago would mean less expensive homes.

The project has been in the planning stages for more than four years. The PAB is expected to make a recommendation on the project to the city council some time this summer, after the board hears a challenge to the city’s environmental review of the project next month.

That round of hearings begins June 2.

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