EDITORIAL | Dog House demolition ban warrants caution

The Langley City Council bought some more time for the hundred-year-old Dog House on First Street this week when it approved a temporary moratorium on the demolition of historic structures.

Slowing the wrecking ball’s date with this historic structure was the right move. The Dog House, despite its current condition, is still considered a treasure by the broader Langley community, and arranging for additional time to find a resolution with the owners makes sense, but the council should tread carefully.

The Dog House was not purchased by a council member. It does not belong to Langley, nor the public. It belongs to Charlie and Janice Kleiner. They own it, because they are the ones who paid for it.

Meddling with their development plans by making code changes, even temporary ones, after those designs came to light is a slippery path. In fact, the six-month ban is probably only permissible because the council raced to make the code change before the Kleiners submitted a demolition permit application.

Generally, new land use laws are applied proactively, not retroactively. It’s a protection for property owners, like the Kleiners, who have purchased property with the understanding that they can do “X” under the existing set of laws. Imagine spending great sums of money on an investment only to have government officials, be they elected leaders or hired planners, later say they don’t like the color or shape of those designs and are going to change the rules. It doesn’t work that way, and for good reason.

That said, the Kleiners have responsibilities of their own, though perhaps not legal ones. Buying a historic property carries with it moral obligations that should not be taken lightly. Whether the city made renovation difficult or not, the Dog House remains a structure of community importance and they should do their utmost to save the building. Call it being good neighbors or simply the right thing to do, but don’t tear it down. At the very least, they should be willing to meet with city officials to try and identify a solution.

The Dog House is a classic example of property rights versus the public good, and it’s no new debate. Coupeville, the second oldest town in Washington and seated within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, has coped with this headache for decades, yet demolition remains a prickly issue. The lesson to be learned is that there is no fits-all answer that works in every situation.

Yet hope remains. Langley and the Kleiners have six months to figure this out. May they reach an agreement and see the Dog House renewed. If not, then the city and the public should be prepared to step aside, or put up the money to save the structure.

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