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Council Declines To Consider Motion On Jewett Townhouses

Hearing to be continued

There was no public opposition, and little debate among White Salmon City Council members -- yet in the end there wasn't a vote either.

The BBK LLC proposal to build the "Salmon Run Subdivision" on East Jewett Boulevard was shot down when no council member seconded a motion by Brad Roberts to approve the preliminary plat.

BBK has proposed building 29 townhouses on a 2.47-acre parcel below Skyline Hospital.

Following a summary of the proposal from White Salmon Public Works Director Wil Keyser, councilors asked Keyser for clarification of several points.

Richard Marx questioned how the proposed subdivision could be granted water hookups, given the recent moratorium on new hookups in the city.

Keyser responded that the water hookups had been previously approved.

"These were all approved prior to the moratorium," Keyser said.

Council member Francis Gaddis said he was not comfortable with the 40-foot wide roadway that was approved by the White Salmon Planning Commission. Gaddis pointed out that the Strawberry Mountain area has had a series of problems related to the narrow road that serves the overall neighborhood.

"I don't feel comfortable with another road coming in with the same problems," Gaddis said.

Timi Keene expressed concern about the entrance road to the subdivision -- on SR 141 in front of McCoy's Video -- because of inadequate sight lines for traffic coming from the west.

Keyser noted that Washington Department of Transportation standards for safety have to be met by the developer.

"This is a preliminary plat -- whatever conditions you impose have to be met," added Deborah Phillips, attorney for the city of White Salmon.

White Salmon resident Jim Kacena, one of the principals of BBK LLC, was present to answer questions about the proposal and to offer an overview of what BBK intended to build.

"This land is zoned for this kind of housing by the city," Kacena said. "We're requesting 50 percent of the density that is permitted on this land. We're doing 29 lots because we want a more appealing subdivision, but we could do 62 lots."

Kacena said the subdivision would be a top-notch endeavor.

"The work would be of highest quality. There will be one builder, and the design and overall ambience will be considered," Kacena explained. "This is the kind of development the city needs. The land is off by itself. It will not redefine somebody's neighborhood, but create its own neighborhood."

Kacena said the housing project also could help the community attract employers.

"This will enable the city of White Salmon and Bingen to attract and retain high quality employers, who need to know high quality housing is available," he explained.

Kacena said concerns about the intersection where traffic will come and go from the subdivision can be managed.

"Our conclusion is that there is plenty of sight distance for 25-30 mph traffic," Kacena said. "We can shave the bank back by about nine feet and have the sight distance required for 35 mph traffic."

Regarding fire dangers, Kacena pointed out that the "hammerhead" turnaround was reviewed and approved by White Salmon's fire chief and the police chief.

"Also, the exteriors of the buildings will be built with fire resistant materials. We'll also put in two new fire hydrants for the city at our expense," Kacena said.

Lee Ast, who owns commercial property in the community and is co-owner of Gorge Wine Merchants in Bingen, testified in favor of the subdivision. He pointed out that there is a need for additional housing.

"Less than one percent of the housing market is currently available for sale, but two or three percent is the minimum need," Ast said.

Ast said good housing options were a key to attracting new businesses.

"Not having housing makes job creation more challenging," Ast explained. "This project fits White Salmon for density and quality. This is an important, much needed addition to the city."

Brad Roberts made a motion to approve BBK's preliminary subdivision plat, but there was no second and the motion failed.

However, near the end of the council meeting -- after the public hearing on BBK's proposal had closed -- Kacena asked the council to explain why there had been no vote on the subdivision plan.

"I would like to request some guidance," he said. "We presented our case, and there were very few questions and almost no discussion, and we didn't get a vote. I know this is not your problem, but we spent a year or two and tens of thousands of dollars on this, and it is zoned for what we are proposing."

Council member Susan Benedict said there was a lot to consider.

"It's a little overwhelming," Benedict said. "This is a huge project, and we got this [information packet] a week ago."

"If the plan was possible without variances, that would convince me," said councilor Marx.

Kacena said variances are commonly granted, in White Salmon and elsewhere, to help facilitate growth in areas where the terrain or other constraints created unusual difficulties in meeting specifics of the zoning code.

"The City Council is saying today we're not interested," Marx said.

"You may not like growth, but if growth is going to take place, variances are not unusual," Kacena responded.

Keene said she had several concerns.

"I realize there are problems inherent with the topography, but I really have a problem with the single road access," she explained. "My other concern is the line of sight to the east when coming out of McCoy's."

Kacena said he could show with engineering drawings ways to address that issue.

At that point, Phillips offered an alternative to rejecting the subdivision.

"What I'm hearing is a desire to continue this hearing to bring in more information," Phillips said.

"That's not what I heard. We denied it," Marx said.

Phillips' explained that, as a quasi-judicial body, the council needed to be sure any decision it made was in agreement with the law.

"You're within your right to deny the application," Phillips explained. "But you need to develop findings as to why. If you decide to deny, we have to articulate what standards were not complied with. BBK is entitled to an appeal. And there has already been a determination [by the Planning Commission] that the variances are consistent with our zoning."

Benedict made a motion to reconsider the BBK preliminary plat. That motion was approved with a 4-1 vote, with councilor Marx in opposition. The decision to consider whether to approve or reject the subdivision was then tabled.

The council agreed to continue the public hearing at the next council meeting. That meeting is scheduled for April 19.

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