Planning board opposes fairgrounds housing plan

The proposal to change zoning at Whidbey Island Fairgrounds has encountered its first roadblock.

The proposal to change the zoning at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds to accommodate a workforce housing project has encountered its first roadblock.

During a meeting last week, the city of Langley’s citizen-led planning commission – known as the Planning Advisory Board, or simply PAB – decided against recommending code amendments that would permit multi-family housing within the Fairgrounds Overlay zone. The Port of South Whidbey, which owns the fairgrounds, is interested in replacing dilapidated concession stands and building housing above them.

Members of the public who spoke during the PAB’s March 6 meeting were overwhelmingly against the change in zoning, citing concerns about housing units impacting the Whidbey Island Fair, the midway and the main stage. Some called for a vote of the public on the issue, which has become an increasingly controversial topic in the past year.

Others voiced concerns that it was inappropriate for Greg Easton, who is a Port of South Whidbey commissioner, to serve as chairperson of the PAB. Easton recused himself from the discussion and the final vote.

Members of the PAB were receptive to the public outcry and said that it seemed the issue had caused a lot of stress for many people. Two members voted in favor of not recommending the zoning change to the city council, while one voted against this motion, and another chose to abstain from the vote.

Langley Director of Community Planning Meredith Penny said Tuesday that she’ll be coordinating with Mayor Kennedy Horstman on when to bring this subject back to the city council.

Port of South Whidbey Executive Director Angi Mozer said in an email to The Record that it was unfortunate that the port did not have an opportunity in the meeting to present the project, nor did officials have much of an opportunity to answer questions and concerns.

“We will continue the process with our zoning application and ensure that we have the opportunity to present a whole picture of what we are trying to accomplish, and to address the concerns that have been raised,” she said.

Port commissioners discussed the failed recommendation during the port’s regular monthly meeting this week.

Commissioner Curt Gordon said he had tried to get the PAB to focus on the concept of workforce housing, rather than a specific design. He also remarked that it was interesting that the board members had initially wanted to postpone the final decision on making the recommendation to the city council.

“The goal is to try and create workforce housing that makes no impact on the fair,” Gordon said, “and I know a lot of people say that’s not possible, but that is the goal. And we lost that goal. They got fixated on a particular design and the potential downfall of the design.”