Stung by what he considers untrue and unfair attacks on his annexation proposal, John Gotts called last week for Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel to resign his position.
Gotts, who wants to annex 48.7 acres of land above Bingen into the city of White Salmon, blasted a recent commentary Prigel wrote, in which Prigel warned of potential problems with developing the Gotts parcel.
Prigel's commentary appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Enterprise.
At the Feb. 16 meeting of the White Salmon City Council, Gotts addressed the council.
"It's unfortunate Mayor Prigel put this in here," Gotts said, holding up a copy of the newspaper. "He's trying to scare you. This stuff is really sad, and it's not based on facts. Now the city is putting the annexation decision off again, to satisfy the mayor's list."
Gotts pointed out that Bingen was presented with the annexation proposal before he took it to White Salmon.
"Mayor Prigel and Jan [Brending, the city clerk] decided not to take it," Gotts said. "This smells to me of sour grapes."
In a Thursday interview, Gotts addressed Prigel's commentary point by point.
"Even in the first line, he misleads," Gotts said, pointing to Prigel's claim that "there is currently a proposal to develop high density housing" in the hills above Bingen.
"He heard me in public meetings that I said there would absolutely not be high-density housing. I said R1 [single-family residences], and he says R3 [multi-family residences] in the first line and in the last paragraph. He's misrepresenting me, and he's misrepresenting the facts as he himself knows them."
Gotts noted that one citizen at last week's White Salmon City Council meeting requested that he annex some of his land into the city of Bingen as a way to spread the economic benefits of any future development there.
Gotts said he would consider that possibility, on one condition.
"Let's say we do get 100 homes up there on half-acre lots," Gotts explained, "and split that between the two cities. I think it would be great for the two cities. And I would be willing to consider that, as long as the mayor and Jan resign immediately and an appropriate person replaces the mayor. If not, I'll probably start efforts at a recall. I can do business only with people I trust, and the mayor has lost my trust."
Gotts said Prigel was misusing his office.
"It's a scary enough commentary, and coming from the mayor, people assume it's true," Gotts said. "The mayor knows better, and that's an abuse of power."
Gotts pointed out that Prigel claimed there would be difficulty in getting emergency vehicles onto the property Gotts wants to annex.
"If there was no room for fire trucks, people wouldn't be able to get fire insurance, and no one would build there. There is no logic to what he is saying," Gotts said. "He is creating fear, when he knows better. Mayor Prigel absolutely knows that I will be addressing all of these issues he lists."
Concerns about storm water runoff were also overblown, Gotts said.
"I told Mayor Prigel that I understood dealing with runoff from Dry Creek has been an outstanding issue for some time," Gotts explained. "And this project will address that and take care of it -- at our expense, no less."
Gotts also singled out Prigel's claims that the slopes on the Gotts property ranges from "30 percent to near vertical."
"Were his engineers up there?" Gotts challenged. "This is without merit and without fact. It's seven to 12 percent where we're looking at building."
Prigel's commentary mentioned that some rocks had rolled down the hill while rough roads were being built in 2001, and Gotts contested Prigel's characterization of the incidents.
"He reminds people that a few rocks had rolled away before. Yes. By a developer that is no longer engaged in this project whatsoever," Gotts pointed out. "Brian Prigel is taking all the information he has and then he is, for some reason, putting the truth in his back pocket. And that's reckless."
Gotts said that while he had not yet made any final decisions about the property -- and would not before holding public meetings to assess what local residents want -- he was starting to consider different ideas for the land.
"I'm thinking now in terms of homes that are 2,500 to 5,500 square feet, and the houses would be made of wood and non-reflecting glass and river rock, so they blend into the hill and maintain the integrity of the land," Gotts said. "So when it's done, it will look like a prairie, and a house was set down there."
Gotts blamed Mayor Prigel's public statements for White Salmon's delay in voting on annexation.
"He has made it sound like I'm a barbarian coming in to ram this through. We have to take action," Gotts said. "To say I would suddenly ram through whatever subdivision I want, it's absolute nonsense."
Mayor Prigel said he was not concerned about possible legal action.
"We haven't heard from any attorney," Prigel said on Friday. "For someone who wants to do what the community wants him to do, he gets pretty upset from one little letter to the editor. It seems a little odd. I'm not worried. He has absolutely no grounds."
Prigel dismissed the charge that he has misrepresented Gotts' development plans.
"I don't know that what I wrote is untrue, because he hasn't presented a proposal," Prigel said. "I don't know what he proposes, but if it is annexed in zoned as R3, White Salmon has no recourse to stop it from being developed for R3."