New townhouses will soon be going up on Spring Street in White Salmon, now that the City Council has approved a proposed subdivision.
In a 3-1 vote following a public hearing on June 6, White Salmon's council members agreed to allow a pair of two-unit townhouses to be built on a half-acre at 185 NW Spring Street.
Matt Melby, a Hood River resident, proposed the building project, which sparked a variety of concerns from many area residents.
Melby attended the council meeting, and urged the council members to OK his proposed development. He pointed out that he has modified his plans substantially to address the issues raised by citizens.
"I'm not asking for any variances," Melby said. "I've been giving and giving and giving for this property. I gave up 1,800 square feet to make Spring Street a safer place. I could still have a five-unit proposal, but we cut it down to four to allow for easier and safer access and to help retain some of the neighborhood."
Residents of the area had raised concerns about the inadequacy of Spring Street to accommodate additional traffic, and about the impact of high-density housing.
To lessen that impact, Melby had earlier agreed not to build one additional house on the land, a structure that was in his original proposal to the city. By eliminating that house, it allowed more room for possible future widening of Spring Street.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Mayor Francis Gaddis first called for supporters of the Spring Street development to testify, but no one came forward.
Gaddis then called for testimony from opponents of the project.
"I realize that although I don't like this project, Melby has gone by the rules and the city has to make its decision based on that," said White Salmon's Kevin Herman. "But this development will bring about 24 extra car trips per day down Spring Street, and those cars will then go down Main Street. Everyone in White Salmon is affected by that. The more development there is, the more the council has to look at those types of things."
Another White Salmon resident, Shelley Baxter, also said she was worried about the cumulative impacts of more housing in the area.
"I'm not against property rights, but I want everybody to consider what their vision for the city is first," Baxter said. "We have to have a safe community first, and by safe I mean safe streets."
"Spring Street has been too substandard to have substantial development," added Dorothy Herman. "I realize it's just a piece of gum in the dam. This is not just about Matt Melby's project. I urge you to put a stop on more development until the street is improved."
Council member Richard Marx asked why the property Melby proposed building townhouses on had already been granted water hookups.
"How can this land have five hookups, on a lot zoned for only one home?" Marx questioned.
The city's special projects engineer, Mike Wellman, said the water hookups had been bought and paid for in 2005.
"But right now, isn't the land only zoned for one dwelling?" Marx asked.
"It is zoned for one dwelling, but that dwelling can be a duplex, or the owner can proceed with land division, such as the one in front of us now," explained Dotty DeVaney, a land use planning consultant for the city of White Salmon.
Melby pointed out that the property already had water hookups on it when he purchased the property.
"I know (the lack of water hookups available from the city) is hard on some builders. But when I bought this property, it already had water," Melby said.
Melby explained that he bought the property from Jim Kacena. Until recently, Kacena had served as a member of the White Salmon Planning Commission.
"Everything I've done, I thought I'd done in good standing," Melby said.
DeVaney noted, however, that Melby was not guaranteed water just by having the hookups in place.
"Water hookups are not guaranteed," DeVaney said. "They are based on the [City Council's] land use decision alone."
Wellman agreed that it was still possible Melby would not be able to develop his land, because sufficient water might not be available.
Marx said it was not appropriate to have more water hookups than the city's zoning allowed for at the time the land was purchased.
"I believe those hookups are in violation of the city's water ordinance," Marx said.
After the discussion, council member Timi Keene made a motion to accept Melby's short plat, with conditions.
Among the conditions: a stormwater and erosion control plan prepared by a qualified engineer must be in place, and the land in the short plat may not be further divided in any manner for the next five years.
Also required: street improvements, including extending lane width to 12 feet, installing a five-foot wide sidewalk, and installing a 6-inch by 18-inch curb along the entire 132-feet length of the applicant's property which abuts Spring Street. The design for all the street improvements has to be prepared by a professional engineer licensed in Washington.
The vote to approve the subdivision was 3-1, with Marx opposed. Council member Brad Roberts recused himself from the discussion and the vote due to a potential conflict of interest.
After the vote, most council members said they were pleased with the process.
"I have to say, I've been really impressed with the level of discussion," council member John Mayo said. "It's encouraging that people realize there is a bigger process and overall plan."
Keene added that the public input helped guide the development.
"I hope it's understood that indeed you did influence the Planning Commission and City Council with findings and conditions," Keene told those in the audience.
Keene also praised Melby's responsiveness to citizen and council concerns.
"I appreciate your willingness to be flexible," she said to Melby.
"This is a much better deal, with tradeoffs on both sides," agreed Mayo.
Marx, who cast the lone vote against Melby's plan, did not agree with the majority's vote. He blasted the proposal as terrible for the city.
"The Melby project was a complete scam, and is a perfect example of an outsider coming in and developing White Salmon," Marx said. "The community needs to come together or be torn apart by outside developers. The other members of the City Council don't listen to the people. They listen to rich developers coming to town and taking all our water. They had five water hookups up there, but they should have had only one."