The White Salmon City Council has again declined to make a decision on whether to approve or reject a proposed townhouse subdivision at 1174 E. Jewett Boulevard near Skyline Hospital.
After a lengthy "part two" session of a public hearing, which was continued from April 5, a decision about the subdivision, proposed by BBK LLC, was put off until the next City Council meeting. That meeting is scheduled for May 3.
BBK wants to build 29 townhouses on a 2.47 acre site. The development is called the Salmon Run Subdivision.
On the evening of April 19, following more than an hour of questions, answers, and discussion, council members voted 3-2 to table the proposal.
During the meeting, Jim Kacena, a White Salmon resident and a partner with BBK, sought to address the various issues raised by council members.
Councilors Timi Keene and Susan Benedict said they were worried about motor vehicle accidents. They said cars on SR 141 were at risk of colliding with slow-moving cars entering or leaving the entrance to the subdivision. The concern was heightened by the difficulty in seeing oncoming traffic.
Kacena told them the subdivision project can meet the Washington Department of Transportation standards regarding traffic safety and sight lines.
"Just to be clear, our proposal doesn't depend on reducing the speed limit (on SR 141) at all," Kacena said.
Kacena noted that the topography of the site prohibits development of more than one road entrance and exit.
"Twenty-five percent of the city would never have been developed without cul-de-sacs," Kacena noted. "Variances for this project are necessary. It's impossible to develop without variances."
Another issue that sparked concern is the narrow, 24-foot roadway that would provide access to the development. The White Salmon Planning Commission had earlier agreed to grant a variance, allowing the 24-foot width. City codes call for a 60-foot road width, but variances allowing a 40-foot right of way are relatively common within White Salmon. (The 40-foot ROW would have two 12-foot driving surfaces and a four-foot sidewalk.)
Given the narrow road width in the BBK proposal, no parking would be allowed on either side of the road as that could impede the passage of fire trucks in emergencies.
"There is no way to build the road wider without pushing units up or down the hill," Kacena said.
To reduce the danger of fire, Kacena said BBK had decided to pay to place sprinkler systems in all the townhouses, and to build them with fire-resistant materials.
"We're trying to go several extra miles and make it safe for residents and emergency personnel and for the hospital up above," Kacena said.
Benedict said she wondered where residents would have their guests park, given the inability to park along the street.
"What worries me is, there could be as many as 60 cars in this area -- where are they going to park?" asked Benedict. "Maybe there shouldn't be so many houses. It doesn't feel safe to have that many people and that much activity and absolutely no parking."
Kacena responded that the BBK development proposes "making available twice as many parking spaces as the code requires," because there would be room for four vehicles in private driveways.
"The code doesn't require us to provide any on-street parking," he explained, adding that the 24-foot roadway also "meets the rule of law."
However, council member Richard Marx complained that the city Planning Commission had approved a variance for the townhouse project that appeared to be in violation of the city's own ordinances.
"I don't see where the Planning Commission has the authority to grant variances for subdivisions," Marx explained.
Attorney Deborah Phillips looked over the ordinances cited by Marx, and concluded that Marx was correct in his reading of the law.
"The Planning Commissioner erroneously looked at a subdivision variance," Phillips said. "This is pretty much late-breaking news as far as I'm concerned too."
Proponents at the hearing pointed out that the city needed more housing in order to grow.
Bradford Dezurick, a vice president of the Bingen-based Insitu Group, which builds robotic aircraft, urged the council to allow for new development.
He read aloud a letter addressed to the council members:
"In the last year, Insitu has grown from 40 employees to our current number of 175. Finding appropriate housing is becoming a challenge for our new employees and recruits," read Dezurick's letter. "An important element of the company's strategy for continued growth depends on the availability of adequate housing. We perceive a lack of adequate housing in White Salmon and we urge the City Council to remedy that shortage."
Opponents said they worried about overdevelopment in White Salmon.
"I don't think 29 units on a two-plus acre parcel is appropriate anywhere," said Tim Stone, a White Salmon resident and former member of the City Council. "Maybe in Bend (Ore.) I liked Bend 10 years ago; I wouldn't want to live there now. There are many problems high-density like this would create."
White Salmon resident Bob Stawicki said it was unfair that the city would not currently allow him to have one water hookup for his home -- yet was considering a project in which 29 water hookups would be required.
"Why would they be given carte blanche and given water rights to every lot they could sell?" Stawicki asked. "Why are they being given all their permits all at once without any homes being sold? It's ridiculous."
After the public hearing closed, Mayor Roger Holen said he believed the subdivision proponents had offered significant concessions.
"What I've heard here tonight is compromises from BBK and work to address the City Council's concerns, and the city needs to compromise in return. The topography of the site requires the city to move forward with variances," Holen said.
However, Phillips interjected that "the Planning Commission in fact does not have authority to make variances on subdivisions."
"The rear yard setback is totally within their authority," Phillips said. "But the Planning Commission did not have authority to grant a variance on the width of the road." Phillips also pointed out that the commission's variance regarding ingress and egress was not within its purview.
Council member Keene said this revelation was significant and needed to be reviewed.
"Based on this new information, I'd like to table this," Keene said.
"You can table it, but the applicant would like to move forward. We've left these people twisting in the wind a long time," Holen said.
Councilor Marx disagreed with that characterization.
"Twisting in the wind? It sounds to me like we've bent over backward to accommodate them by lowering our standards," Marx responded.
The motion to table was then agreed to with a 3-2 vote.
Councilors Timi Keene, Susan Benedict, and Richard Marx voted to table, with councilors Francis Gaddis and Brad Roberts in opposition.
After the meeting, Mayor Roger Holen expressed disappointment with the council's inability to make a decision, and said others wanting to build may be discouraged.
"What concerns me is the chilling effect the BBK non-decision puts on Smart Development's planned unit development for the Timm's Trailer Park," Holen said.
Holen pointed out that proponents of the subdivision had made a strong effort to meet the concerns of the council members.
"One of the objections was having a two-inch water line serving the development, so BBK came back and said they would do an eight-inch line," Holen pointed out.
Holen noted that last week's meeting stretched to three hours, highly unusual for White Salmon council meetings in recent years.
"The meetings will get longer," Holen said. "If the council keeps tabling things and they go on to the next agenda, we may have eight-hour meetings by July."