There could be a new look to downtown White Salmon soon.
Last week, the White Salmon Planning Commission reversed course and approved a variance for "The Cameo," a 39,883 square foot, four-story, mixed-use building planned for 125 E. Jewett Blvd. in the downtown business district.
The commission's vote to pass the variance was 2-1.
Planning Commission members Jim Kacena and Don Smith voted "Yes" to support the variance, while John Mayo voted "No."
Essentially, the variance allows The Cameo building to be 43 feet high instead of 35 feet as current city codes allow for in a C2 zone.
The property owner, Dr. Kevin Kane of Portland, requested the added height to accommodate 12 condominiums, the sale of which will help pay for construction of the building.
Kane also owns the neighboring The Creamery building, and his plans call for that building to be torn down to make way for The Cameo.
"Hopefully we'll break ground in September," Kane said. "And have the shell in a condition where we can work through the winter."
Kane added that he hoped to leave The Creamery open through July and perhaps into August.
Kane said if all went as planned and there were no snags, The Cameo could be completed by about a year from now.
"Hopefully we can attract a retail tenant that will have something to do with food service," Kane said.
The architect who designed The Cameo, Stewart Gordon Straus, of Beaverton, Ore., said he was gratified that the Planning Commission had granted the variance that would accommodate their building project.
"We're very pleased they decided the project could go ahead," Straus said. "We're moving right ahead with everything. Hopefully in about four months, we should be well under way. It will take a couple months to get the drawings ready for permit submission to the city, and we're allowing a couple months for the permit process."
The vote to approve the variance represented a change of course for the Planning Commission, which had voted 3-1 on April 26 to table consideration of the variance. At that meeting, several members said they could not support the variance under the "economic hardship" justification being given.
Officials at White Salmon City Hall reported that Kane had put his variance application on hold indefinitely after the April 26 vote.
However, Dixie Walker, associate planner/public works administrative assistant for the city of White Salmon, explained that Kane had contacted City Hall after putting their application on hold and decided to move forward.
"They felt they could argue the case," said Walker. "They e-mailed us to put it back on active. Straus said he was going to go at it from another angle."
"He never withdrew his variance application," added Mayo, chair of the Planning Commission.
On Monday, Straus said what had changed was that the property owner was required to improve the entire length of the alley between First and Second streets as part of the project's approval.
"That alley has to be paved along its entire length, 12-15 feet wide, and also we have to add storm drainage. My guess the cost will be in excess of $100,000 for all that," Straus said. "That burdened our project with financial obligations over and above what other properties would have to deal with. The additional building height and revenue would offset the financial hardship. That made an important difference to the arguments."
Mayo said the change in focus was enough for the building proponent to gain approval of the variance.
"If it was, `I can't make enough money with this,' that wasn't going to fly as a premise," Mayo said. "My point of view is that the City Council needs to address the economic state of downtown. I'm not opposed to this building, but I am opposed to doing it under a variance."
Straus said he and Kane were "not entirely surprised" that the Planning Commission supported the variance after earlier suggesting they would not be able to do so.
"They seemed eager to find a way to approve it, but didn't feel the language had been found to allow them to wrap their arms around it," Straus said. "At the first session, we hadn't given them a basis for having a hardship."
According to Straus, the building design is basically set, and no significant changes are anticipated.
"There may be some minor adjustments here and there, but the big picture is pretty well set at this point," he explained.
Plans call for 19,971 square feet of commercial space and 19,912 square feet of residential space.
Straus pointed out that demolition of The Creamery could begin before the new building permits are finalized, "so when the building permit is issued, we can get started right away," he said.
Straus added, however, that no specific dates have yet been set for work to begin at the site, or before The Creamery building is torn down.
"The intent is to give The Creamery as much of a summer business season as we can, and it's not going to take that long for that building to be taken down," Straus said. "What we don't want to do is demolish the Creamery building and have it sit as a bigger hole with nothing happening. We need to get a sense of when the permits will be available, and work backward to a start date from that."
Katina Putnam, owner of The Creamery, said she planned to sell the business, which she has operated for the past six years.
"My hope is someone will buy the business and move it across the street," Putnam said. "I'm busy with my catering business. I've had six great years here, but it's going to happen, and we have to make the best of it."
Putnam said she expects The Creamery to remain open at its existing location until Aug. 1.
Mayo said he hoped those citizens who were opposed to The Cameo building project would participate in City Council meetings in which zoning code changes are being considered.
"We need to be clear and get our codes revised quickly, because development is not stopping," Mayo said. "The time to make a difference in the town is during revisions of the codes. Each step of the way there are public hearings."