Langley’s comprehensive plan is nearing adoption.
The Langley City Council is likely to review recent modifications to the 20-year policy document at its next meeting. It is set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at city hall.
Adoption of the plan, which dates back to 2014 and will guide future growth in Langley, could come at a meeting in March.
The housing element of the plan — the section most discussed at a recent public hearing — received a few changes from the city’s Planning Advisory Board, though it is still largely intact. One modification, however, could make building accessory dwelling units without sewer connections a possibility if city council moves forward with it.
City staff recommended removing ADUs from policy LU-7.1, which outlines necessary infrastructure requirements such as sewer, water, stormwater and roads for proposed developments.
City Planner Brigid Reynolds said her recommendation was based on verbal and written submissions received at a public hearing on Jan. 30 at Langley United Methodist Church. It also recognizes that it is unknown when sewers will extend to other parts of the city, such as East Langley.
The policy change, if approved by council, assumes that sewer will eventually be available but allows for increased density.
ADUs are permitted in all single-family residential zones in the city and building them creates more opportunities for rental housing, according to the housing element of the plan. The document also says streamlining the process, reducing fees and making it easier for homeowners to build them should be pursued.
The board approved the recommendation at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Feb. 7 despite criticism from a city council member in attendance.
“That just simply allows them to be built in East Langley, where there is space, but not sewer,” wrote Thomas Gill, a member of the board.
City Councilwoman Dominique Emerson opposed the recommendation primarily because of its abruptness. She claimed the idea wasn’t strongly voiced at the public hearing, though Reynolds countered that the city received feedback on the idea beyond the public hearing.
“I’m just surprised because for the last four years we’ve been talking about not doing it in every meeting,” Emerson said.
She also argued that it was not needed because the city hasn’t fully tapped out its potential for ADU development in parts of the city where sewer connections are available.
Gill said he could see Emerson’s point, but he also said places in the city that are connected to sewer may not have the capacity to handle extra effluent from the ADUs, while there is room for it in East Langley.
It isn’t meant to be a long-term plan, he said.
“We’re all talking about a short-term measure,” Gill said. “This is not going to be in place for 20 or 30 years because if everything goes the way people want it to go, we’re looking at 10, 15 years max.”
City Councilman Peter Morton, who was also in attendance, added that one of the incentives for ADUs is to help offset the cost of sewage. He said it will ultimately be up to the city if it wants to pursue that path as a means for increasing density.
There were a few other modifications accepted by the board.
One change addressed confusion regarding the “Missing Middle,” which refers to multi-unit housing compatible in scale with single-family homes. These building types are characteristic of neighborhoods prior to the 1940s and consist of duplexes, three- and four-plex buildings, townhomes and small multi-plex buildings, according to the comprehensive plan.
The city is considering expanding development in this direction because this type of housing is suitable on larger lots and “fit well within single-family neighborhoods.”
Commenters at the public hearing expressed concern with densities found in Missing Middle examples, which range from 16 to 50 units per acre. They were worried that development would get out of hand.
City staff added “missing middle housing typologies found at the lower end of the density scale can fit Langley’s small-town character” to clarify the section.
The board approved the amendment.
“I think if we add that sentence, that will kind of give an idea of what the missing middle means and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Gill said.
Planning Advisory Board member Rhonda Salerno, who was not able to attend for personal reasons, submitted a number of suggested modifications to the comprehensive plan.
The suggestions, she said, were crafted from public comments she’s received. She said the goal was to protect the city from being out of compliance with Island County’s Growth Management Act while also preventing the city from being susceptible to lawsuits by developers which could “force us to permit projects that are not in the best interest of the city.”
Only two of her suggestions were approved by the board. The first changed the language from “the city must” to “should” when considering ways to increase the amount of land zoned and built for multi-family housing. The other concerned the “various” factors impacting Langley’s housing affordability. It added that existing permitted densities are very low “for incorporated jurisdictions and in Island County.”