A South Whidbey resident is hopeful that community fundraising efforts might be enough to secure a new park for the city of Langley.
Coyla Shepard, founder of low-income housing project Tiny Houses in the Name of Christ, approached the city council this week about a parcel of land for sale adjacent to where the tiny homes are being constructed. For years, the community has used the lot for parking for many programs, classes and events at the nearby Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and South Whidbey Community Center.
The land owner is selling the property for $350,000. Shepard proposed that the community could raise the funds through a nonprofit organization, which would buy the parcel and gift it to the city. She suggested some shrubbery or flowers could be planted on the land, which already has a number of towering Douglas fir trees.
“I think it would be a great park,” she said. “I think it would be a huge asset to the city. The ambience under those big trees, it’s something that’s just incredible. We don’t have anything like that in Langley where people can go and sit.”
Mayor Scott Chaplin said he had spoken to a local foundation about the subject. He said he learned that people can also make tax-deductible donations to the city. He added that Shepard’s proposal could be reviewed by the city’s citizen-led Parks and Open Space Commission and Public Works.
Councilmember Harolynne Bobis said she was not interested in hearing more unless the city had a direct role in the issue, but at the same time she claimed that Langley doesn’t have time to address it.
Shepard countered that the city wouldn’t be paying to purchase the land, which is already being used as a park. A local Boy Scout troop has been maintaining the property for years, which is used as parking during the Whidbey Island Fair.
The area in question is currently zoned as neighborhood business. Shepard expressed concern about a commercial building being built on the land and eroding the aesthetics of the city’s creative district.
Councilmember Thomas Gill, however, suggested that this very thing might be what eastern Langley needs.
“For people who live in East Langley, there is no place to shop of any sort except coming to the Star Store or going to Red Apple, which is for some people quite a trek, even by vehicle, especially when we get to inclement weather,” he said. “So having that available for somebody who has an enterprising idea, be that commercial or be that multifamily, I think that’s a more efficacious use of money and resources at the time.”
Councilmember Rhonda Salerno disagreed.
“I think this is a gift from people who want to save the trees, save the spot, and I think if there’s a group that wants to gift it to the city, how could we possibly say no to a gift of a beautiful piece of land with huge carbon sequesters on it?” she asked. “It’s part of our policy to look for climate change. These are some of the hugest trees around and we need to save them.”
Councilmember Craig Cyr suggested that Shepard and other creative citizens should lead the charge in raising the funds for the property.
In an email to The Record sent Thursday night, Shepard said that the property owner has received an offer from a contractor dependent upon a feasibility study. However, a contract has not yet been finalized.