The City Council unanimously passed ordinance 999 at the May 5, 2014 meeting establishing a moratorium on applications for the demolition of historic structures. The intent of the ordinance is not to establish an outright prohibition on demolition, but to allow time to consider standards that would have to be met prior to any demolition and to require that a complete plan and supporting information be provided by the applicants. The financial feasibility of preservation, the structural integrity of the building and/or public benefits associated with any redevelopment are common standards that cities use in reviewing requests for the demolition of historic structures. Here is an example of a similar ordinance adopted by a community in Vermont: Standards for the Demolition of Historic Structures
City Efforts to Support Revitalization of the Doghouse
The city has been working with the property owners over the last few years to facilitate the preservation of the Doghouse, which is no doubt a challenging project for a variety of reasons. The owners had indicated previously a desire to use the lower floor for an events facility. Under the existing city code at the time the owners would’ve been required to pay the city approximately $300k in parking in lieu of fees because they could not provide the required on-site parking. The city had performed a parking study in 2011 that showed that the downtown has plenty of parking to meet demand (despite perceptions to the contrary) and therefore moved to eliminate the on-site parking requirements for most businesses to facilitate business activity and revitalization of the downtown. The parking code amendments were passed and the response from the Doghouse owners was as follows:
Thank you for sharing the good news regarding the policy change for parking in Langley’s buisness (sic) district. We applaud the efforts of those who have worked hard to bring about this needed change. Under the previous rule, we would have incured (sic) an assessment for a parking offset, that would have caused us to scale back our plans to utilize the basement in the Olympic Club “Dog House” building. We feel that the change in policy should greatly assist us in bringing back the use of the lower level. Our goal to give more access to the public to this historic building, has taken another step forward.
In 2011 the city also lowered the building permit fees by 27% following an analysis of the existing fee schedule. The owners of the Doghouse, in addition to all other property owners in the city, continue to benefit from this important policy change. The city continues to explore ways to improve the business climate in Langley by removing unnecessary barriers associated with investment in Langley while promoting high quality development that fits in with the character of the city.
The issue of the encroachment of the existing porch and stairs at the Doghouse was first raised by the owners in February of 2013 and the city first met with the owners to discuss the issue in April of 2013.
The street vacation request lacked any specific details justifying the legal authority of the city to vacate the property given the restrictions in RCW 35.79.035 regarding a city’s ability to vacate a right of way that provides public access to the shoreline or why it was necessary for the project to move forward. The request was submitted apparently without input or advice from an attorney representing the owners. The plans that were presented (link shows the west elevation) for the Doghouse in the spring of 2013 were hand drawn by the owners themselves and resulted in significant comments from the city building official with respect to non-compliance with the building code. The owners have been pursuing tax credits for historic preservation, which requires the project comply with the Secretary of the Interiors Standards. Designing a project to comply with these standards typically requires a design professional preferably with expertise in historic preservation. Also, like all city’s in Washington State the City of Langley is required to enforce the state building code.
Following the street vacation request the city, including the city attorney, conducted extensive legal analysis to determine the best course of action to allow for the preservation of the Doghouse. Our legal analysis was clear that RCW 35.79.035 restricts our ability to vacate the right of way in this instance. Therefore, the city developed two alternatives including providing the owners an easement for continued use of the right of way or a land swap. The land swap option was never fully developed in terms of how much land the owners would provide the city, but the assumption is that it would be an area of equal value to the land that was to be provided by the city. The city would agree not to impact the view from the Doghouse. The City also offered to provide a new easement for the porch and stairs similar to the easement provided by the city in 1975. These options would minimize the risk of a legal challenge over public shoreline access and allow for the preservation of the Doghouse.