EDITORIAL | First Street proposal was not a good fit

Langley property owner Richard Francisco announced this week that he has abandoned plans to redevelop his First Street holdings.

No doubt many will breathe a sigh of relief over the news, and perhaps they should. Growth, development and change are not things to abhor, but the price of Francisco’s vision — trading a community shared view-shed for the prospect of economic development — was too high.

The proposal concerned an area on the north side of First Street from Whidbey Island Bank across the road to Boy and Dog Park. Francisco would have torn down the recently renovated building that houses a pizza restaurant to make way for two buildings that would house 14 residential units, four second-story offices, four street-front retail spaces, two restaurants and an out-of-sight parking garage that would use an elevator to shuttle vehicles to one of 28 spaces.

Francisco’s hopes were for three-story structures — six stories when viewed from the waterfront — and told city officials he’d need an exemption from Langley’s two-story height limit. If he didn’t get it, he’d forgo plans for a courtyard and instead build a single, nearly 215-foot-long building stretching the length of the property.

In a May interview, he told The Record it was not a matter of holding the city hostage, but having as much space as possible to sell and lease. Perhaps so, but to us they are one and the same. It’s a message that says, “Give me what I want, or else.”

It’s also a statement that city and community values, in this case a height limit designed to protect Langley’s rural character and views of the waterfront, are less important than one person’s pocketbook.

Development is like art; one person may find something pleasing, another not so much. But subjective and personal distaste of a project has no bearing on an individual’s legal right to improve their investments. It’s one of the reasons why cities have rules that guide and shape development — to keep personal opinion out of the decision-making process.

However, with right comes responsibility. A three-story project that would block the view of residents and visitors alike is not in keeping with Langley’s values. At best, Francisco’s vision was out of character. At worst, unneighborly and rude.

The Record had hoped that through community, city and developer discussion, a compromise would be struck. But Francisco has figuratively thrown up his hands, telling a reporter this week he is “done with Langley,” and that’s a shame.

The prospects for economic development gained from additional commercial space on First Street was exciting, but it’s turned out to be a case where everyone loses.


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