The proposed annexation of 1.06 acres of residential property into the city limits of White Salmon drew a large crowd to last week's White Salmon City Council meeting.
On the evening of Dec. 1, neighbors packed into the council meeting room at the fire hall to air concerns ranging from added traffic and congestion to fears the annexation could lead to an alteration in the character of the neighborhood.
Other than the property owners, those who spoke expressed opposition to the plan. But in the end, the annexation was approved by the City Council in a 4-1 vote.
The property, owned by David and Leslie Ball, is located at 80 El Camino Real. The parcel is zoned R-1, for single family residential.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting before the vote, several residents expressed the belief that the annexation could open the door to excessive development on the property.
However, members of the City Council pointed out that any potential development would have to come before the council for specific approval.
The Balls currently live in Hood River. They recently bought the El Camino Real parcel, which comprises two lots. One lot is six-tenths of an acre, while the other is 0.46 of an acre. There is one existing house on the property.
Wil Keyser, director of the city's Public Works Department, told members of the council that the parcel "meets all the requirements of annexation to the city," and said the staff recommended approval of the annexation petition. Several conditions were attached, including that the parcel to be annexed remain in R-1 zoning and that any subsequent short plat shall comply with city ordinances.
Before opening the hearing to comments from the public, Keyser noted that the city had received two letters in opposition to the annexation.
Joe Wiederhold wrote to inform the city he is concerned that the new owner could subdivide the property "into 5,000 square foot lots and be able to build four more homes on the property."
"The added noise, congestion, etc., will not only be a constant presence in our lives, it will significantly detract from my property value," Wiederhold wrote. "Another factor that has to be considered is the increased traffic on NW Lincoln Street. This is currently a narrow, inadequate roadway ..."
In another letter, resident Will Bloch expressed concern about the implications of building additional residences on the adjacent half-acre lot to the west of the existing house.
Despite the letters, Keyser advised the members of the City Council "not to let irrelevant details have a bearing on the annexation decision."
Keyser pointed out that development or possible subdivision of the parcel was a separate decision from annexation, and that possible future plans should not be considered in the current process.
Kathy Bartsch, who lives on adjacent Alta Vista, explained that she and her husband worried about what the annexation could mean.
"We understand that the new owner wishes to expand the current home and short plat the remaining property to create four new home sites," Bartsch said. "We are concerned that the home expansion is limited for use as a single family dwelling and is compatible in size and height with other homes in the area. Our subdivision on Alta Vista was annexed into the city, but there are restrictive covenants requiring a minimum lot size of one-half acre as well as building requirements, size restrictions, and other items. We urge you to suspend annexing this property until a more complete plan is developed and citizens and absentee property owners have a reasonable opportunity to review the plan."
El Camino Real resident Dee Hulbert said an existing covenant covers how property in the neighborhood can be developed.
"A change on a lot already in the covenant really makes me nervous. I very firmly object," Hulbert said.
Nancy Sliwa said she was concerned that the reason for the annexation application was to get around current restrictions on the land.
"The whole purpose of the request is to supersede the CCRs. It's the first step down a very slippery slope," she said.
"There are two lots there, and one does not fall under the existing CCR," Keyser said.
The city's attorney, Deborah Phillips, pointed out, however, that any covenants in effect would continue in force regardless of whether the property is inside or outside the city limits.
"Absolutely," Phillips said. "Annexation has no impact on the CCR."
Phillips explained that "CCR" stands for "covenants, conditions, and restrictions."
"The initial owner of a large piece of property will record those CCRs to lay out standards for development that thereafter bind subsequent owners of property to develop consistent with CCRs," Phillips explained.
Al Warner said he sees the annexation as a "stepping stone for a subdivision."
"We don't want to set a precedent," Warner said. "One annexation may lead to another. The area is nice and quiet right now."
Keyser reminded the council members not to allow potential future development influence the decision on annexation.
"Your decision should not be based on the supposition there might be a subdivision if the property is annexed," Keyser explained. "We have no knowledge of any land adjustment. If there is, then we would go through the subdivision process, and all of the concerns being raised tonight would have relevance to that process."
When Leslie and Dave Ball requested a chance to speak, they said they were "very sorry to hear of so many objections."
"We're going to be living here. It's a beautiful area," said Leslie Ball. "The CCRs were never disclosed to us. We're not purposefully going around the CCRs. The only reason we want a boundary line adjustment is because the house is on two lots, and we want to equal that out. We work out of our own home. We do plan to have a mortgage office, but no clients come to our home."
"We want to be a part of the community," added David Ball. Ball said he regretted the lack of communication.
"It's unfortunate to meet our neighbors this way. I say that with no malice, because I'd be concerned too," he said.
Members of the council advised the audience that the annexation did not mean further development would be agreed to by the city.
"At this point, all we're discussing is whether they pay taxes to the county or to the city, and whether we can welcome them to the community," said council member Susan Gookin. "We can address a subdivision at a later time. At this point, they can't have anything but one family home."
"It sounds like there are lots of checks and balance before they can build in this spot," agreed councilor Susan Benedict.
"There would have to be a permit or application for any subdivision of land. The owner would have to reveal his plans at that time," Keyser explained.
Council member Penny White Morris said she believed neighborhood residents had not taken the opportunity to meet with the Balls and find out more about their plans.
That drew a rebuke from some in the audience.
"That's not true," said Dee Hulbert. "The house is vacant. You can't visit with no one there."
When the vote was called for, it was approved 4-1, with council member Francis Gaddis opposed.
After the meeting, Bill Bartsch said he was dissatisfied with the way the council handled the decision.
"The council disregarded what the community's wishes were, and I thought that was inappropriate," Bartsch said. "I'm not so much against the annexation as I am against the purpose for the annexation. It's clear the purpose is just to be able to subdivide and develop."
Bartsch also blasted the council's approach to the neighborhood residents.
"A lot of people were upset about the attitude of the council," Bartsch explained. "They were starting to shut us down; they were tired of hearing what we had to say. Their motivation at this point is to create revenue. We want to maintain the integrity of the density in the neighborhood, but there is a loophole on that one lot that is being taken advantage of."
El Camino Real resident Gwen Yanda also said she was not happy with the way the city handled the annexation proposal.
"We were considering annexing into the city, but after we see what's going on, there's no way we're going into the city," she said. "I've never heard of an annexation case where a city employee presents it and tells the council, `don't be swayed by what the people are saying,' and where they never asked the proponents a question. Then the mayor shut it off, before the applicant could make his own statement."
On Monday, Leslie Ball said she was glad the issues were being discussed openly.
"I'm happy to know what our new neighbors' concerns are. We definitely want to work with the neighborhood," she said. "We plan on absolutely being able to share our plans with the neighborhood before we do anything with that lot."
Ball added, however, that the response took her by surprise.
"It was definitely very stressful. We didn't expect so much opposition, and we plan to meet with the neighbors. But a lot of people came up afterwards, and they were very very nice. It made me feel a little more comfortable."
As far as developing the empty lot, Leslie Ball said all they have for now are ideas.
"There is nothing definite," she explained. "We will do everything in our power to make sure people are a part of it. They will have the opportunity to have a say on what's to be done with the property."