Public sets high standard for Langley’s next planner

Ed Gemkow speaks during a meeting last week that aimed to get public feedback on who Langley’s next planner should be.

Langley’s next planner will need to be a tightrope walker, balancing growth against preservation, emotional intelligence mixed with code acumen and enforcement, organization and communication.

A dozen people discussed what qualities and characteristics the next director of community planning in Langley should possess during a gathering last week at city hall. Leading the discussion were members of the search committee: architect Mira Steinbrecher, Councilwoman Dominique Emerson, Langley Public Works Director Stan Berryman, building designer Eric Richmond and former city councilman Jim Sundberg. They have already created a list of desired qualities, skills and experience: knowledge of codes, rules and regulations, understanding of their intent, ability to administer and enforce them, writing new codes and ordinances and revising them, and organization, among others.

Hearing from the public was to fill in the gaps.

“We’re looking for what’s missing,” Steinbrecher said at the start of the comment period.

Langley’s planning director is the person in charge of reviewing land use applications, adhering to federal, state and city codes, and overseeing development in the city. One of the chief requests was that whomever the committee recommends, it’s someone who wants to stay on longterm.

“The thing I need most for my real estate business is a pattern of stability,” said Leanne Finlay. She noted that the city had been through seven planners in seven years, if current interim planning Director Jack Lynch is counted twice. He filled in following the exodus of the past two planners.

“I’ve been through a number of planners and I’m hoping we can find one we can keep who will work with the council and boards,” said Roger Gage, Planning Advisory Board member.

It’s a big task for one person, many in the audience said. More than day-to-day review of applications, the planner has to consider the big picture of long-range planning for growth and development, as well as envisioning major projects. Some that may lay ahead of the next planner are access from the city’s downtown business district to the marina, affordable housing, and development of the city waterfront parks.

“This is a tall order …,” said Ross Chapin, an architect in Langley.

The $80,690 the city has allocated for planner wages and $31,022 for benefits in 2016 falls short of what many planners earn, he said, which may make recruitment of solid candidates challenging.

Some of the desired qualities, such as emotional and social intelligence, may be difficult to measure in an interview or resume.

“This is as much a political environment as a professional environment,” Chapin said.

Organizing emerging projects and long-range planning was key as well. Chapin said he wanted a planner with a clear vision for what Langley could be, and what the residents want it to be. In his opinion, that’s a “livable, walkable, equitable community.”

“If we’re five years down the line and we’re in the same place, we’ve failed,” he said.

To that point, Design Review Board Chairman Bob Dalton said it will be important to ask candidates what they think of the city’s current status. Specifically, he was referring to the applicants’ opinions on existing codes and planning policies.

The committee received 10 applications as of Jan. 31. That field will be whittled to between three and five for them to conduct interviews. Mayor Tim Callison said he has retained the final authority over who will be hired.