A new sidewalk project on First Street is moving ahead despite a bit of resistance from some residents and property owners.
Pedestrian mobility is at the heart of the $245,000 project that is expected to begin sometime this fall. Plans are for a five-foot-wide sidewalk on the upper part of First Street, a connecting sidewalk to DeBruyn Avenue, bioretention cells for drainage and underground filtration facilities. There will also be room for 13 on-street parking spaces.
The project will replace the gravel pathway currently in front of several houses on the eastbound side of the street.
The city is only paying for $24,500 of the project from its general fund, while the rest is covered by grants from the Transportation Improvement Board and Island County. The changes are part of the city’s six-year transportation improvement plan. Improvements to Second Street, which will include an extended curb to create a protected pedestrian walkway, and several other streets, are also on the docket over the next few years.
Langley residents Bob and Emily Gunn wrote a letter to the city in April 2016 expressing concern about a lack of connector sidewalks between walkable areas in Langley. The letter represented 21 residents, including 13 adults and eight children under 12 years old. The Gunn family regularly walks through the streets and experienced “some level of anxiety” whenever they traveled in areas with uneven footing or without physical separation from moving vehicles, according to one of their emails to the city. A sidewalk will reduce safety concerns for children as well as elderly people walking the streets, while also portraying Langley as family and pedestrian friendly destination.
“I see it as a good long-term solution and action for the city,” Gunn said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The project, however, isn’t without contest. Several residents and property owners voiced their objections at a public meeting at city hall on Tuesday. It was the fourth and final planning meeting about the topic held over the past several months. Now, the city is transitioning to the design phase of the project and will soon create blue prints.
The meetings were led by Public Works Director Stan Berryman and Robin Nelson of Kirkland-based PACE Engineers, the city’s contracted engineer.
Those opposed said the project will diminish Langley’s rural character and reduce the number of parking spots they currently have on the street. While the latter is technically true, Berryman said the project is on a city right of way. Some of the parking spots that residents have used in the past never belonged to them in the first place, he said.
“It’s not on any private property,” Berryman said. “They’ve been using those public parking spots on public property for a long time,” Berryman said. “We’re still providing 13 spaces, which is quite a few.”
Jan Allderdice is among those against the project. While she’s tried to be as cooperative as possible, Allderdice would rather see a “rural looking Langley” as opposed to a town filled with sidewalks.
“It really isn’t a matter of age, it’s about what you prefer,” Allderdice said.
Allderdice believes it is also downgrade to her home’s value; she will lose a parking spot because of the project.
“We’re worried about whether or not it will be as desirable with one parking spot as it is with two,” Allderdice said.
But, most of all Allderdice was frustrated about the lack of communication between city hall and residents, as well as a lack of input she had in the decision making.
“It felt disrespectful because we’re all long-term residents,” Allderdice said. “I feel like they should have given us a say so.”
Berryman said residents were notified via email. He said that while the project was conducted publicly and discussed at city council and planning commission meetings, as well as being adopted in the six-year transportation improvement plan, Berryman felt communication could have been improved.
“We can always do better,” Berryman said. “I think that’s what I’ve learned from this. Even earlier on, we’ll try to have more outreach.”
Berryman said the city will continue to meet with residents who have concerns.
Jean Milfs owns a duplex on First Street with her husband Milo. She was notified just recently about the project by her daughter-in-law. She is also opposed to the project.
“I think it would be a real mistake for the town,” Milfs said. “We kind of have a rural look in our town. Everybody likes it that way.”
“It kind of boils down to this in a nutshell: They’re not solving problems, they’re creating problems,” Milfs added.
But, Paul Samuelson [not the former mayor], a Third Street resident, believes the value of the project cannot be overlooked. Whether people are for it or against it depends on their stage of life, he said. Families are much more inclined to have sidewalks so that they can be active around town.
“As a parent of a 2- and 4-year-old, I can tell you we love having sidewalks,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson said that while the safety of children is ultimately the responsibility of parents, having a distinguished area for walkers will reduce the chance of a wandering child in the middle of the street.