In a special work session last week, members of the White Salmon City Council, with members of the Bingen City Council among those sitting in, heard directly from John Gotts about his annexation plans.
Gotts, a software company owner, wants to annex 48.7 acres of land around Dry Creek into the city of White Salmon. With White Salmon facing an ongoing budget crunch, annexing this land would be a logical move.
In the first place, White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones is correct when she points out that annexation hearings are set up to specifically address annexation, and not to try to figure out or rule on what may or may not happen two or three years from now.
Looking solely at the annexation proposal -- and that is all that is currently on the table -- the annexation would be beneficial to the city for several reasons: It gives the city an added tax revenue source. It gives the city room to grow, which is not something that can be taken for granted, especially given the constraints of the National Scenic Area. Perhaps most critical, it would give the city of White Salmon more control over what is a valuable and highly visible piece of real estate.
At this point, there really are no drawbacks to White Salmon annexing this land. Currently, this acreage is unincorporated Klickitat County land. That means the county gets the taxes from the property, and it also means that the county -- not White Salmon or Bingen -- would have the final say in guiding how the land could be developed. Making those decisions directly within our own community is better than having it handled in Goldendale.
Gotts appears to be sincere in his desire to proceed with development on the property only if there is widespread support for a specific proposal. Gotts said he would hold community meetings before even drawing up definite plans for the land. At the Jan. 11 meeting and in earlier conversations, he has been open and forthcoming about the potential he sees for the property. He has also made it clear that he wants a broad consensus before proceeding with building.
It's important to note that Gotts is not coming to White Salmon as a real estate developer. His business is software, and he does not need to sell lots to make a good living. That should be encouraging to those who might fear excessive development, or growth that would not be handled properly. Certainly there are many issues that would need to be addressed before any construction could proceed. For example, stormwater runoff would need to be effectively controlled. The Fire Department -- and residents -- would need to have an efficient and safe way to get in and out of the area in the event of a wildfire. Slopes would need to be stabilized to prevent slides. Aesthetic issues would have to be discussed.
If critical elements such as these could not be resolved properly, the city would have the right, the ability, and indeed the obligation to reject development. But all of this speculation is getting way ahead of where the process is now. Again, all that's being addressed at this time is annexation -- not construction. It would be foolish for the city to assume a worst-case scenario, and thus move to reject annexation in advance.
Potential development plans would have to be addressed with public hearings, and would require approval of the city Planning Commission and the White Salmon City Council. These hearings would have to involve the city of Bingen, to ensure there would be no negative impacts to Bingen.
As we all know, change keeps coming, and this land -- one way or another -- will also see changes eventually. With Mr. Gotts, the community appears to have the best opportunity to maximize its input as to what happens there. Gotts seems genuinely interested in making White Salmon his home and maintaining its high quality of life.
Given the acreage involved, this is a big decision for the White Salmon City Council. But from what we know now, the council would be wise to give a green light to this annexation proposal.