Citing concerns about public safety and worried about the inadequacy of city ordinances governing subdivision development, the Bingen City Council decided to reject annexation of 49.4 acres of Merlin W. Vezina's property.
According to Bingen officials, the Aug. 21 decision was geared to allow time for the city to review and upgrade its ordinances regulating subdivisions. Vezina was advised he could resubmit his annexation proposal at any time.
The property in question is on the bluffs above Bingen, with a portion straddling Dry Creek. Vezina has proposed building two dozen new homes on the property, once water and sewer infrastructure is lined up.
However, after the Aug. 21 council meeting, Mayor Brian Prigel said the council members had no other choice, given the circumstances.
"I think the council did the right thing," Prigel said. "There are no regulations to ensure that the project would be done in a safe manner, and there is no evidence to date that it would be done in a safe manner."
When the council began considering the proposed annexation request, Mayor Prigel advised the council that one key issue needed to be addressed.
"The first issue is, if we annex the property and then an application is made for development, then whatever laws we have on the books at the time are the laws that govern the process," Prigel said. "Our concern is that this (housing development) has the potential to develop in a way that's hazardous to police, the fire department, and the residents of Bingen as well as residents of the development."
Vezina, who came to the meeting to make his case, said the fire safety issue was being exaggerated.
"I went to the fire chief here, and they have no problem with it," Vezina explained. "Also, the police have no problem with safety issues either."
However, council member Terry Trantow said there were other concerns in addition to the fire danger.
"I'm less concerned about fire than water runoff," Trantow said. "We don't have any ordinances regulating subdivisions, and we're dead in the water without them."
Frank Childs of Taylor Engineering, who is working with Vezina on the annexation plan, told the council he understood their concerns, but believed any problems could be addressed because the council would ensure compliance with any relevant issues.
"I can tell you'll do the best job to deal with safety," Childs said. "The council has control of health, fire, safety, and streets."
"There is no point in annexation without a subdivision ordinance," Prigel responded.
"There is from our side," Childs explained. "We want to get water and sewer up there."
However, because of the safety issues, Prigel recommended that the council deny the annexation proposal.
"I believe it's prudent to deny at this point, and hire a land use planner to upgrade our ordinances. The applicant is free to re-file," Prigel said.
Prigel added that a proposed "pre-annexation agreement" would be difficult and expensive to enforce in the event that became necessary.
"If the council is not comfortable with the ordinances we have now, it's almost inviting litigation to do a pre-annexation agreement," explained Anthony Connors, city attorney for Bingen.
Connors agreed that the city would best be served by hiring someone to put together an ordinance to guide large-scale developments, and advise Vezina of a "time certain" that this would be accomplished.
Prigel estimated the new ordinances could be updated within 45 days.
To speed the process of writing a new subdivision ordinance, the council authorized the hiring of a land use consultant at the same meeting.
"One way or another, we will have a subdivision ordinance in place by December," explained Jan Brending, Bingen city clerk.
Prigel said he does not believe the council's decision is a major setback for Vezina.
"The reality is, it doesn't set them back that much, provided we can get our ordinances upgraded," he said.
Childs said Bingen would benefit from the construction of expensive new homes in the city.
"We'd like to give you the tax base from building a subdivision of million-dollar homes," Childs said.
Vezina told the council that he could take the benefits of his proposed development elsewhere if need be.
"I talked to (Klickitat County Planning Director) Curt Dreyer about that, and talked to White Salmon," Vezina said. "They saw no problem with giving us water."
Vezina added that he was frustrated with the delays from Bingen.
"This is going on four months or better, and no ordinance is in place," he said. "Nothing has been done, and now still nothing has been done."
"The issues are going to be the same -- health and safety -- regardless of who looks at the proposal: White Salmon, Bingen, or the county," Childs said. "We'll do the best job we can. In my opinion, you can control your own destiny and have the tax base."
Council member Randy Anderson told Childs he was not convinced by that argument.
"You say you want us to control our own destiny, but your view of our destiny is not necessarily the same as ours," Anderson said. "We don't currently have laws to protect ourselves. Before we commit, our lawyer is telling us what we have now is not adequate protection. So I make a motion to deny the notice of intent to commence annexation until we get ordinances in place to protect ourselves."
Three members of the council (Anderson, Dixie Thiesies, and David Spratt) voted to deny the annexation, while council member Terry Trantow abstained.
At that point, Vezina walked out of the room, clearly upset.
Afterward, Vezina voiced his displeasure with the council's failure to accept his notice annexation.
"I'm so disgusted with that outfit," he said on Friday, adding that he planned to take his plan to White Salmon instead of Bingen.
"Engineers are working on it now," Vezina explained. "Bingen held me up for over five months, and they were supposed to answer me in 60 days."