With a generally skeptical group of Bingen residents raising a series of concerns, the Bingen City Council voted 3-0 on Tuesday evening to table an annexation proposal from Merlin Vezina.
The action means Vezina's bid to bring about 49 acres into the Bingen City Limits -- the first step in building a subdivision on the land -- will be deferred for at least a month, and probably longer.
Vezina, who is proposing to build a 45-lot subdivision along Dry Creek in the hills north of downtown Bingen, said he was not surprised at the council's action.
"I kind of expected it," he said after the June 5 council meeting. "Bingen has never dealt with anything this big before. It's going to take awhile."
If the council eventually grants the annexation proposal, a separate decision on whether to allow the subdivision would follow.
"This is not a final process," Mayor Brian Prigel pointed out. "This is a preliminary stage, and we'd like to hear the concerns of the public."
Several people among about 20 in attendance raised a number of concerns regarding the project. Issues included fire danger, slope stability, stormwater runoff, impact on schools and other services, and the steepness of the terrain where the subdivision would be placed.
Bingen resident Jay Carroll said that he has seen the slopes slumping in previous wet seasons, and he asked what impact the planned development would have on Dry Creek.
"I'm worried about water runoff and slope stability," he said.
"It is very steep terrain, but it is within the urban growth area of the Scenic Area, so obviously someone decided at some time that the land ought to be set aside for urban growth," said Tony Klein, who does surveying for Klein & Associates in Hood River and is assisting Vezina.
"We'll make sure the rate of runoff is no more than it is now," added Frank Childs, an engineer working on Vezina's plan. "We'll have retention ponds to hold the water."
Randy Anderson of the Bingen City Council asked if a geological survey addressing the likelihood of slides on the land had been completed.
In response, Vezina stressed his belief in the stability of the area by pointing out that he planned to build his own home up there.
"We'll make every attempt to ensure the development is within whatever criteria is necessary," he said.
Vezina added that his plan would probably reduce the fire hazard on the hillsides straddling Dry Creek.
"If this goes through, there would be a fire hydrant every 500 feet," he explained. "That would be better than what you have now. You'd have a better means of fighting and controlling a fire."
Mike Jablonski of Bingen said he wanted to see the land remain as it is currently: open space.
"One of the nice things about the downtown is you can look up and the hillside is green and open," he said. "It's a great outdoor situation, and it's great for bike riding. I think it would be sad to lose it. I'd like to see it stay the way it is."
Council member Dixie Thiesies asked Vezina what he would do if Bingen decides not to grant the annexation proposal.
"Would your next step be to go to White Salmon for annexation?" she asked.
"I'd be forced to," he said.
"But given the slope, if anything comes down, it's going to come down on Bingen, not White Salmon," Thiesies said.
After an hour of discussion and questions, the council decided to ask for more information on slope standards, possible subdivision standards, and possible zoning options before rendering a decision on annexation.
"We will work to get all the information you need to make an educated decision," Mayor Prigel told the council members. "It will probably be at least a month until the council sees the information packet on this and has this proposal on the agenda again."
Due to a serious house fire that started about a half-hour before the council meeting, two members of the City Council who also serve on the Bingen Fire Department -- Dave Spratt and Larry Murphy -- could not be at the meeting.