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All For No Reason

Editorial for March 8, 2007

It was May 9, 2006, when the White Salmon Planning Commission voted 2-1 to approve a variance that would allow the building of a four-story, mixed commercial/residential structure downtown at 125 E. Jewett Blvd.

The variance allowed the property owner, Portland resident Kevin Kane, to build up to 43 feet high instead of the 35 feet that city zoning codes allowed for. Kane wanted the variance because he said the added height would allow him to build 12 condominiums -- the sale of which would help him pay for construction of the building.

The city bought his argument and granted him the variance he said he needed to make his project pencil out.

The 40,000 square foot building was projected to go into the empty spot downtown where the old Cameo Theater once was. Kane also owned the neighboring Creamery building, and he said that would have to be razed to make way for the project.

There was a sense of urgency in getting Katina Putnam, owner of The Creamery, out of her place -- which she leased -- so that building could be torn down. The building's architect said they wanted to break ground on the new "Cameo Building" in September 2006, and The Creamery was given until Aug. 1 to move out.

The Creamery, which had been a popular business for six years, moved out as ordered at the end of July and went out of business. Putnam -- whose dream it was to have her own cafe, and who said she had found her perfect spot with The Creamery -- subsequently moved to Vancouver to start over.

Fast forward to March 2007: Where a thriving business used to be, we now see just another sad, empty storefront. Where the hole in the ground of the old theater used to be, there is still a hole in the ground. What was the point?

Nothing is happening. No building is going on, and city officials say no construction is pending. Financial considerations have apparently put the brakes to the building project. A popular downtown business was forced to close for no good reason, and there is nothing new coming in to replace what the city has lost. That's a worst-case scenario.

There are lessons here, for the city and for developers. But more than that, it's simply a shame.

JB

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