John Gotts, unhappy that his plans for annexation and subdivision development on his 48.7-acre parcel in the hills above Bingen have been thwarted, said on Friday that he plans to take legal action against Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel.
Gotts contended that Mayor Prigel deliberately undercut his business moves in the area, and used the mayor's office to oppose his subdivision plans.
Gotts pointed to a commentary Prigel wrote in the Feb. 10, 2005, issue of The Enterprise.
"He made statements as if they were fact, and he has cost me around $10 million in value, and he will be sued for damages," Gotts explained. "Now there is a water moratorium, and I can't get water. That drastically reduces what I can get for my land."
The $10 million figure is tied to the value of the lots Gotts had proposed building on the property.
"There were going to be 50-60 lots, at $200,000-$300,000 a lot. At the very least, that was worth $10 million," he explained. "I hope Bingen has municipal insurance. I've never seen scarier lawyers than mine. They're excellent."
A Spokane law firm, Preston, Gates & Ellis, will soon serve Prigel with notice of the forthcoming lawsuit, according to Gotts.
On Tuesday, Mayor Prigel said he was not too concerned about the prospect of a lawsuit.
"If he can make a case, fine. I don't think he has a case," Prigel said.
Prigel pointed out that when the parcel Gotts wants to develop was purchased, it was zoned for agricultural deferral with 20-acre minimums.
"Let's see, what is it now? It's in agricultural deferral with 20-acre minimums," Prigel said. "He doesn't come close to having a case, and at this point I don't have much of a comment. It's bizarre."
Gotts claimed that Prigel worked to interfere with his business.
"The bottom line, when the mayor of Bingen wrote that commentary and put it out as fact that he knew the steepness of the lots, he broke the law. Now he'll have to pay damages," Gotts said. "If he can't prove what he wrote about the steepness, then he lied."
In his commentary, Prigel claimed portions of the land where Gotts hoped to build had slopes of "30 percent to near vertical."
Gotts added that when the mayor and several members of the Bingen City Council attended a public meeting in White Salmon to voice concerns about his project, that in itself was illegal because it became a de facto Bingen City Council meeting.
"There was no public notice of that meeting," he said. "How many hours were spent preparing things to stop this project, on city time and using city letterhead? Look how hard they worked to make sure there would be no new building up here."
Prigel explained that his opposition to the project, and the opposition from members of the Bingen City Council, came because Gotts envisioned a large development on the property. That does not fit what's allowed in the land's current zoning.
"It's zoned for two houses, but that's not at all what he was trying to do," Prigel said.
Gotts warned Bingen officials and staff in Bingen not to try to tamper with written records of meetings and other correspondence.
"They better not destroy a single document," he said.
Gotts also blasted the city of White Salmon and its political leaders for their ineptness in handling his annexation application.
"Not a single person on the City Council knew the laws as they sat there," Gotts said. "I have a right to believe they know the rules. I'm the one who wrote checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars and got burned. These people made promises to me, and their inability to follow the rules cost me money. City officials are at fault. If they don't know the law, people like me get hurt."
However, Gotts said he would not file suit against the city of White Salmon.
"I have nothing against White Salmon. They didn't do this on purpose," Gotts explained. "Brian (Prigel) did this on purpose. White Salmon simply made clerical errors. I don't hold a grudge against them for their stupidity, but I do hold a grudge against Prigel for trying to stop me."
Gotts added that he is asking for Prigel's resignation as mayor, and for an apology.
"That to me would be worth $10 million," he said. "If he'll step down, the lawsuit is settled. Otherwise, we'll see him in court."
Gotts said he expected the lawsuit to be filed sometime within the next week.