With a decision now at least several weeks away, the White Salmon City Council met for a special Jan. 11 work session to address the proposed annexation of 48.7 acres of land into the city.
The property straddles Dry Creek in the hills above the city of Bingen.
Those attending the Park Center meeting included all five members of the White Salmon City Council and two members of the Bingen City Council, as well as the mayors of both cities. They heard a short presentation from land owner and annexation proponent John Gotts, head of Stonecliff Development LLC.
Wil Keyser, director of White Salmon's Public Works Department, said the city would need to gather more information before making a final decision.
"The process now is going to have to slow down some to consider the implications," explained Keyser. "The next step in the process is to hear more information. The city staff has to do research analysis and develop a more technical basis for this decision."
Gotts outlined some potential future plans for the property, but stressed that he has no specific plans yet drawn up.
"You tell me what will work," Gotts said. "I want to see one-half acre lots at least. In White Salmon, lots can be one-eighth of an acre, but I won't even consider that up there."
One of the points Keyser made in his presentation during the work session was that "money should not be the principal driving motivation" in considering annexation. Keyser added that annexation ought to complement the entire community and not harm the community.
"Community growth is a good thing only when it is well managed and when it preserves or enhances the quality of life," Keyser explained.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel asked Keyser if White Salmon had discussed zoning of the parcel.
"Is it correct to assume the council did accept a proposed R-3 zone when it accepted a notice of intent [to annex]?" Prigel asked.
"That's correct," Keyser responded. "But we're not stuck with it, though."
R-3 zoning is designed to accommodate multi-family residential housing. The property calls for 20-acre minimum lot sizes under existing county zoning.
Gotts said he plans to set up a series of meetings and invite the public to offer ideas and express concerns.
"I plan a full workshop on this to find out what plan works best for everybody," Gotts said. "This is a place for all of us to win."
He explained that with any residential development, there would be a minimum and a maximum building size.
"Minimums because we don't want single-wides up there, because we want it to be a nice area; but a maximum because we don't want trophy homes either," he explained. "If we have a minimum of 2,000 square feet and a maximum of 4,000 square feet, that would be pretty cool. This could provide a million, million and a half in tax revenue for the city."
Gotts added, however, that a subdivision "doesn't have to happen."
"It's OK if it doesn't, but if it does, I want everyone to have input so it's exactly what the community wants. When I have a majority consensus, I will take that to the city," Gotts said.
Keyser said it would be March or April before the issue came before the White Salmon City Council for an up or down vote.
"We'll slow up enough to get public input. Let them [the public] ask questions we may not think about," Keyser said. "We'll see how the timeline goes. We'll set a date for a public hearing to consider annexation."
Tax records showed that the property in question paid only about $2,330 to the county in taxes in the year 2004, and some of the land was in an "agricultural deferral" designation. However, the tax revenue could rise sharply if homes were to be built there.
White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones said she was pleased that representatives of the city of Bingen were at the work session, and promised that White Salmon would work closely with Bingen as the proposal moved ahead.
"Obviously, whatever happens will have an impact on both communities," Jones said. "I want to keep Bingen in the loop so they'll feel comfortable."
After the meeting, Prigel said he didn't believe the work session answered many questions.
"I'm concerned about the scale of the development and some of the safety issues," Prigel said. "I'm concerned that it's annexed as R-3 with the idea of rezoning later. When you get a development application, you cannot revise rules and standards to apply to that development after you've received an application."
Jones pointed out that any subdivision proposal would have to go through an open public process.
"Before it ever comes to the City Council, the Planning Commission will have a public hearing on whatever the development proposal is," she said.
Gotts said he planned to set up a Web site soon to ensure that information about potential plans for the property was available to everyone, to ensure unfounded rumors did not get started.
"I don't want to have people misunderstand, so open lines of communication are everything," Gotts said. "I want the public to know how to reach me with any concerns or comments. Anyone can call my cell phone: (208) 305-4808. I intend to make sure the process is wide open."
The session ended with no specific dates for further hearings on the annexation proposal.