Council mulls future of East Langley

Langley city council is considering how to balance the environment with affordable housing.

As utility connections are slated to increase in East Langley with the expansion of a major infrastructure project, the city council is considering how to balance concerns about the environment with goals for affordable housing.

During a meeting last week, Councilmember Chris Carlson broached this topic, which he said he heard about while campaigning the previous year. Members of the neighborhood on the eastern side of the city have expressed worries about existing affordable housing stock being replaced by market rate units, which during their building could increase impervious surfaces and the removal of trees, causing stormwater runoff that could potentially destabilize a nearby bluff.

In his memo to the council, Carlson said it was worth discussing the rezoning of properties in that area to prohibit high-density development that is allowed under the city’s multi-family infill form-based code. The code only applies to the RS7200 zone when sewer is available. East Langley is currently a mix of RS7200 and RS15000 zones.

Councilmember Rhonda Salerno said she did not wish to change the zoning in a certain area of East Langley, but for other parcels, she did share environmental concerns pertaining to critical areas and forests.

Given the city’s new ordinance about unpermitted tree removal, Councilmember Craig Cyr asked Meredith Penny, the director of community planning, if there were concerns about trees being removed for development. Penny responded that trees are allowed to be taken out to make room for development and must be replaced at a 1:1 ratio. She added that the city is pursuing a grant to update tree regulations.

Cyr said he recalled Island County commissioners rewarding the city the $3 million grant for the Langley Infrastructure Project because of the potential for increased density in East Langley. Though there was some disagreement among the council about the exact parameters of East Langley, Public Works Director Randi Perry confirmed that for the Langley Infrastructure Project, it includes a sewer extension from Camano Avenue to Furman Avenue, Edgecliff Drive and Decker Avenue.

Cyr worried that changing the zoning in the area might make it difficult to receive a deadline extension on the grant from the county. He also worried about the extra work it would cause for the planning director. Penny recommended that if the council decides to pursue this change that it becomes part of the city’s comprehensive plan update.

In an email sent to The Record after the council meeting on Feb. 20, Councilmember Gail Fleming said no matter how much East Langley’s density is increased, there will be no affordable housing and no new jobs.

“Unless and until we include an affordable housing mandate in our multi-family infill code, the only ‘economic benefit’ is for those who build and then sell or rent their units at market rates,” she wrote.

This was a sentiment also echoed by members of the public who spoke during the meeting.

Thomas Gill, a former member of the city council, pushed back against the idea that East Langley is the last bastion of affordable housing.

“I can tell you right now that it is a bald-faced lie,” he said, adding that any transfer of ownership of property in the area is no longer affordable for anybody who works on the island. He advocated for making it easier and more affordable to use the multi-family infill code on undeveloped property.

“Infill is a great idea, but it’s a very expensive proposition because that property goes up in value exponentially every time something changes in the city,” Gill said.

Casey Gloster, a member of the city’s citizen-led Planning Advisory Board, said that changing the zoning to not allow more dense housing sends a signal to the community.

“Then you start to see people making decisions that look like gentrification … so the consideration has to be what are the consequences of going that direction,” he said.

The council made no decisions about changing the zoning that night. Carlson said he plans on revisiting the issue in the future.