It looks like Ash Street in Bingen will remain open to through traffic after all.
On April 16, after a two and a half hour public session in which many Bingen business owners raised concerns about closing off Ash Street where it intersects with State Route 14, members of the Bingen City Council voted 4-0 to leave Ash open.
The motion also called for making Ash a one-way road going south toward Depot Street. Parking along Ash Street would remain as is.
The Bingen Merchants Association -- with Mike Zitur, owner of the Gorge House restaurant, as spokesperson -- presented petitions with approximately 100 signatures to the council members. The petitions called for Ash Street to remain open.
In a compromise solution crafted by council member Terry Trantow, the council proposed to leave Ash open, but with a "mountable curb" that would create a loading zone recessed into the intersection. The loading zone would have been able to handle large trucks, but during times trucks were loading or unloading, the street would have been blocked.
However, despite the council's vote, the proposed creation of a loading zone at the Ash/SR 14 intersection was shot down by the Washington Department of Transportation.
"We went to DOT to see if they could leave Ash open with a mountable curb. They didn't like that. They just said we can't do that," Mayor Brian Prigel said Friday. "We will leave it open, but the loading zone is out. So basically it will be status quo. Trucks can park wherever they can find a space. It's not the best solution, but it's what we're stuck with at this point."
"I like the idea of going one-way down Ash, that's a workable solution," said Donna Zitur. "It's too narrow for two-way traffic and parking."
Mayor Prigel opened the meeting, held at Fidel's restaurant, by asking the group of roughly 30 merchants how many believed "the business environment in downtown Bingen is great and couldn't get any better?"
No one raised a hand, and Prigel said he was glad to see that.
"Our basic concept is, let's attract people. Get them out of their cars and walking, entice them to leave their cars," Prigel said. "We hope to do that with street trees, nice sidewalks, no utility wires."
Prigel displayed a diagram of the downtown area that showed the current parking situation. He said the status quo was basically being maintained, although there was potential for adding more parking at the west end of town as well as on Depot Street.
Prigel said the city's pending purchase of Depot Street was designed to provide more parking as well as to give the city more control over the property, much of which currently is lined with junk cars.
Steve Koontz, owner of the building in which All Sports Pizza is located, said he believed the downtown badly needed an upgrade, and hoped all parties could work through disagreements.
"I go to other communities in the Gorge -- Stevenson, Hood River, The Dalles -- then I come back to our town, and it's like going into a time warp from 2002 back to 1952," Koontz said.
"Compromise is the name of the game," he added.
Council member Randy Anderson said he was surprised at the opposition to closing one end of Ash Street.
"This idea did not come from the City Council," he explained. "It came from public meetings, and was in the plans for two years. I'm shocked this was rejected in the last couple of weeks. We've had several public meetings on this. We have no objection to leaving it open, but we're surprised it took so long. That's why we have council meetings and public meetings, but you have to come to the meetings."After the meeting, Mike Zitur said he was satisfied with how it went.
"I want to thank the City Council for giving us the opportunity to address concerns," Zitur said.
Prigel said he too was happy with the resolution of issues, and praised members of the Bingen Merchants Association for getting organized and active again.
"It's been long-needed, and can do a lot of good things," Prigel said.
Donna Zitur said she believes the group will continue to be active in Bingen.
"I really do think we're going to be a lot more active in what's continued on," she said. "There are a lot of other issues that will come up with Depot Street, and property owners need to keep a watchful eye. I hope we now have a good working relationship with city officials that continues, and we can all work together to make the town and community better."
Prigel said work on the SR 14 paving project through downtown Bingen is expected to start on Sept. 3.