During a Sept. 14 public meeting at the White Salmon fire station, the owners of Smart Development Corp. unveiled a proposal for a "pocket neighborhood" in White Salmon.
The envisioned development, which would be guided by architect Ross Chapin of Langley, would be sited on what is now Tim's Trailer Park, on E. Jewett Boulevard near Fifth Street.
Randy Orzeck, a White Salmon resident and co-owner of Hood River-based Smart Development Corp. (SDC), said he was pleased with the reaction of local citizens.
"A lot of people showed up. It was fantastic, a full room," Orzeck said. "They were very interested in Ross Chapin; he is the guru nationally of cottage housing and rezoning for pioneering development."
In a brochure distributed before the meeting, Orzeck and SDC co-owner Henry Fischer detailed their vision for the rezoning of Tim's Trailer Park.
"To maintain consistency with the existing neighborhood, SDC would like to build a series of small homes on the property with stores fronting Jewett," read an excerpt. "Currently the city code provides only R2 and R3 residential zoning districts ... the result would be a series of high-density row homes that are not appropriate for the neighborhood. We are asking that the city consider a planned development ordinance that would maintain the intent of the current code but allow a more creative site plan for the property. The result will be smaller, more affordable homes that encourage ownership and enhance the community."
According to Orzeck, Chapin's work has helped transform residential areas in communities such as Port Townsend and Kirkland.
"His work has attracted national recognition," Orzeck said.
Orzeck said SDC has the option to buy the land, approximately three acres, where Tim's Trailer Park is currently located.
"We have it under contract. It's our property if we close. We're going through the steps to see if there is interest for other than townhouses and `pave the world' development," he explained.
White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said he sees the development as a positive idea for the city.
"Chapin does cluster development of small houses -- typically 1,000 square foot houses," Holen said. "The houses face each other around a common courtyard, and it fosters a sense of community."
Holen added that the location is within walking distance of downtown, and thus is not an "auto-centric" development.
"It was a very interesting presentation and something the city should consider," Holen said. "Not everybody needs a 3,000 square foot McMansion on Strawberry Mountain. You could build six to 10 of these small houses in the space where three houses would typically exist. It's an interesting concept."
Orzeck said the homes would be between 600-1,000 square feet. He added that Chapin's model creates a community where people know their neighbors due to the nature of the architecture.
"The porch would look into a common space," Orzeck said. "There is security in that and a sense of community. We would cluster the houses and create a lot of community open space, rather than big driveways."
Gaining the city's approval to allow a new zoning category is essential to the project.
"We would like to create our own zoning for this," Orzeck explained. "There is no zoning that currently exists that could accommodate this type of development. R1, R2, R3, all are inappropriate and don't work for the cottage vision we have. We need alternative zoning or some sort of overlay to allow this."
Mayor Holen said the city's planners would need to figure out whether to alter its zoning codes to allow the cottages, and if so, decide what form that would take.
"It would require some changes to our zoning regulations. It's going to take a lot of Planning Commission work before it comes before the City Council," Holen said.
Orzeck pledged there would be more meetings with city officials and neighbors to work on the concept.
"The next step is for the developers to provide a sample or model ordinances for the Planning Commission to consider," Orzeck said.
Holen said the only concern he had about the idea is the fact that it would eliminate the trailer park and force those living there to move.
"It's a concern for any developer, and it's something to anguish about," Holen said. "You end up displacing some people. Is there a way to avoid that? Nobody finds it easy to deal with."
Orzeck acknowledged that he was concerned about those living at the trailer park.
"We looked at the property a year ago, but didn't want to buy it then because we didn't want to displace 35 folks and their families," he said.
Orzeck added that another developer had been planning to build townhouses on the trailer court property, but that deal fell through. After that, SDC reconsidered and decided to go forward with the purchase of the property.
"Someone will develop it," Orzeck explained. "We have an opportunity to do something that might be good for the town and create an asset to the community. We want to create affordable, very high quality smaller homes that fit the needs of many people."
Orzeck pointed out that national statistics show that 46 percent of homeowners are either single or couples, yet the average home has three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
"There is clearly a need for smaller homes," he said.
Orzeck pointed out that those living at the trailer court would have at least one year's notice to relocate if a decision is made to go ahead with the development.
"It's state law, and it's appropriate," Orzeck said.
However, he noted that it could be several months until the project was to the point where that one year clock would begin ticking. Orzeck said that if all goes well, work could begin in about 18 months.
Orzeck said he believed the designs Chapin is famed for could provide a new direction for residential neighborhoods in Gorge communities.
"This is customizing for the community. We're excited to do something downtown, not just for White Salmon, but as a role model for Hood River and Stevenson and other communities," Orzeck said.
Representatives of Tim's Trailer Park could not be reached for comment by press time.