Responding to an inquiry about demolishing the Dog House Tavern by its owner, the Langley City Council approved an emergency moratorium on destruction of historic buildings Monday night.
Director of Community Planning Jeff Arango proposed the six-month ban, which was unanimously approved by the city council in a 4-0 vote May 5. Councilman Bruce Allen was absent while tending to a family matter, but the council still had its necessary supermajority for the emergency ordinance.
“I think it’s a really great interim thing to do,” said Councilwoman Rene Neff. “We bank on our historic charm. When anybody puts that at risk, there’s financial risk too.”
Charlie Kleiner, who owns the building with his wife Janice, emailed Arango in late April asking about the process to tear down the building. In an interview with The South Whidbey Record last week, Kleiner said he felt he was not being helped or supported by the city after his request for a partial street vacation for part of Anthes Avenue was denied.
Instead, the city offered to continue the existing arrangement, which allows the building to use an easement for the area under the famous stairs and deck that overlooks Saratoga Passage.
Arango also offered the Kleiners a land swap that would give them the two areas in exchange for a similarly-sized area closest to the water above Seawall Park.
Subsequently, the owners withdrew their request and Kleiner said he thought it was a bad deal to give up land closest to the shore.
“I think the city’s demonstrated a lot of support for this issue,” Arango said.
Mayor Fred McCarthy added, “We have been looking at anything short of a gift of public funds.”
Some of the issue is related to restrictions Langley faces when dealing with public property that includes a right of way and shoreline access.
Per state law, the city cannot give away a public asset, such as property, without receiving a public benefit, Arango said.
Now, the city and the Kleiners have six months to work on a new deal. Arango said the moratorium will give Langley time to come up with a set of standards about tearing down a historic building and gather public input.
“The intent here is not to say under no circumstance can you demolish a historic building,” Arango said.
News of the moratorium caught Kleiner by surprise Tuesday morning. He had not been notified by the city of the demolition application freeze, but said at this point, his plan remained the same: the Dog House Tavern will come down.
But while he is eager to begin talking about new construction, Kleiner said he was open to discussing “viable renovation.”
“I’m really at a point with the renovation concept where I was kind of salivating over new construction.”
Kleiner said he was willing to speak with city leaders about the building and his plan, and added that the mayor had his phone number.
“We just want to be part of the community, and we want to make everybody happy,” he said. “But we can’t do it at our own peril.”
Janet Ploof, president of Langley Main Street Association, asked the city for its approval to try to repair the relationship with the Kleiners. She proposed inviting them to town to discuss their options and make them feel like Langley supports them and their original request to renovate the century-old building.
“It’s the cornerstone to our historic presence, and our historic presence is the cornerstone to our identity,” Ploof said.
“We’re hoping to bring back some of the feelings they had when they first came here,” she added.
Arango said he had experience drafting a similar ordinance to protect historic buildings from becoming vacant lots, or “pits” and that he had run it by the city’s contracted attorney, Jeff Taraday of the Lighthouse Law Group.
One of the standing issues in the permit process was the lack of an official engineer’s plan for the renovated or new building provided by the Kleiners to the city for review, Arango said.
Having heard some of the reactions to the news, Langley resident and businessman Fred Lundahl spoke in support of the Kleiners’ reputation.
They couple allowed organizers to use the building for a beer garden during the Choochokam Arts Festival last year, and the Langley Main Street Association to stage cutouts of historic figures from the city’s history in the windowfront.
“Charlie and Janice Kleiner have been very helpful and community-minded,” he said.
The emergency ordinance affects any structure within the central business district listed — or eligible for listing — on the National Register of Historic Places.
The only building affected is the Dog House Tavern.