Multi-family zoning proposal raises concerns

Residents objecting to a proposed rezoning ordinance told the Langley City Council Monday that they are distrustful of the process being used to clear the way for a multi-family home development.

Stating that they support the concept of building more affordable housing within city limits, residents accused the city of advocating on behalf of a developer and a site-specific plan, which is contrary to law.

“It feels like it’s being switched to support that property owner,” Paul Samuelson Jr. said. “There’s something happening without it being spoken about. It feels like spot zoning.”

The zoning map changes, known as Ordinance 1054, involve rezoning a lot on Third Street at the west entrance to Langley from single-family use to mixed residential. The lot, located across from St. Hubert Catholic Church, is surrounded by wetlands and a sheep farm and offers a sweeping view of mountains and pastures.

The property, purchased by Habitat for Humanity of Island County more than two years ago, would allow the nonprofit organization to build attached housing units, such as duplexes, townhouses and apartments.

A large banner sign on the property shows a conceptual design of the Habitat for Humanity duplex development, which would accommodate seven families.

The proposed ordinance also recommends reducing the size of 45 lots in the same area to create space for smaller homes.

After about 90 minutes of public comments and discussion, the council voted 4-1 to approve the revised ordinance at its first reading. It still requires a final vote. Council member Dominique Emerson cast the lone “no” vote.

Brigid Reynolds, director of community planning, told the council the proposed ordinance changes are in line with the city’s goals to create more affordable housing.

“Since February 2017, the planning advisory board has been working to remove barriers and increase housing options within the city,” Reynolds said.

The ordinance has been the subject of public hearings and the public has written letters for and against the rezoning, which city council members were given to review.

Bob Gunn pointed out some homeowners are worried that Habitat for Humanity could decide to sell the property, which would also further its mission financially. A new property owner could build a bigger apartment complex at the site, Gunn said, once the property is zoned for attached housing units.

Gary Wray, chairman of the Habitat for Humanity of Island County board, admitted he’s had his own frustrations with making the organization’s Langley “dream” a reality because zoning changes needed to occur before any development plan is finalized.

“We haven’t been able to proceed other than to dream of the possibility and say ‘if this happens, this is what we hope to do,’” he said.

Over the organization’s 20-year history, 52 homes have been built in Whidbey communities but not yet in Langley, Wray said.

Orin Kolaitis, chief executive officer of Island County’s Habitat for Humanity, said the organization took out a loan to purchase the property, which measures about a half acre.

“We bought the property but didn’t necessarily have a schedule of developing it,” Kolaitis said. “We do want our families to come into the community and thrive.”