Langley council approves commitment to zoning change

Council gave the green light for the city to pursue making housing an allowed use at the fairgrounds

A change in land use designation at the fairgrounds may persuade Island County commissioners to loosen their coffers and fund a proposed workforce housing project.

During a joint special meeting between the Langley City Council and the Port of South Whidbey this week, council members present gave the green light for the city to pursue making housing an allowed use in the zone where the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds is located.

Port officials have been looking to the construction of new concession stands on the port-owned fairgrounds with modest one- or two-bedroom rental units on top to help ease the housing shortage that South Whidbey currently faces.

Port Commissioner Curt Gordon stressed that the port could legally only be involved in workforce housing, rather than affordable housing. Workforce housing is defined as between 80 to 120% of the area median income.

The port is hoping to secure some of Island County’s American Rescue Plan Act funds for the project. But county commissioners have been hesitant to grant funding for the project because the area is currently not zoned for residential use. Thus, port officials approached the city of Langley last week about a change in the zoning code.

The discussion continued during a special meeting on Monday.

Langley Director of Public Works Randi Perry said one of her major concerns was the city’s sewer capacity.

“There’s lots of talk of affordable housing and lots of talk of adding infill,” she said. “The city right now, we’re not prepared for that and we need to get prepared for that.”

Councilmember Rhonda Salerno said she thought the city’s citizen-led Finance and Personnel Commission should weigh in on the issue.

Councilmember Thomas Gill referred to the port’s housing project as a “great, easy solution” and pointed out that there is a lack of housing for people who work full-time.

“Every home in this city is priced so high, you have to be working at $200,000 a year or more in Seattle to afford it,” he said. “There’s no jobs that pay that much on the island, at all.”

He suggested a blanket change to all public use zones in the city to allow housing as a secondary use. This would also affect the South Whidbey Community Center, for example.

The motion passed in a 2-0 vote, with Salerno abstaining because she wanted more information about the city’s other public use zones before deciding to also include them in the zoning code amendment. Her original motion called for a less complex approach that only involved changing the fairgrounds’ zoning.

Councilmembers Harolynne Bobis and Gail Fleming were both absent from the meeting.

The council avoided the discussion of funding altogether, and instead decided to prioritize the commitment to changing the zoning of the area in question.

At the council meeting last week, Langley Director of Community Planning Meredith Penny said that the zoning code change could cost $9,000, which includes the price of contract planning services and legal fees for review of the ordinance.

The city’s finance committee will likely review the question of funding next.