The Astoria City Council met for another marathon (four-hour) session on Monday with a full audience in attendance for much of the meeting. On the evening’s agenda were some controversial issues regarding the Uniontown district and the Port of Astoria. Joanne Rideout reports. Script follows, Listen below [7:00 min.]
The council continued to hammer out the myriad details of amending city code to control waterfront development. Councilors had previously agreed on a 28-foot height limit for construction, with an exception to 35 for businesses that allow public access to the Riverwalk, However, before they could give that section of city code final approval for what’s called the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone, another unintended consequence was raised by entrepreneurs in the Uniontown District.
Small firms along Marine Drive under the Megler Bridge have historically relied on the Port of Astoria to preserve their views of the river. Two side streets, Bay and Basin, run north off Marine Drive and abut port property. Of particular concern to small businesses was the Bay Street view corridor. Till now that port parcel has remained vacant, and with the streets, allowed views of the river and ship traffic going by.
But the port has now leased that parcel to Hollander Hospitality, which plans to build a hotel there. Hollander is the same company that won controversial city approval to build a 45-ft tall hotel on the waterfront at second street in Astoria. It could be argued that Hollander and the outcry its project caused was the reason for the more restrictive city code process now being embraced by the council and many residents.
If the city had chosen not to address these two side streets and their attendant views specifically in city code, businesses such as Workers Tavern, Columbia River Coffee Roasters and Three Cups Coffeehouse would lose a main draw for their customers, which is a view of the working waterfront.
So this became a main point of discussion during the meeting and drew strong opinions from members of the audience.
Among them was Dirk Rohne, chair of the Port of Astoria commission. He referred to a letter he had sent to the council, requesting that they permit what other port commissioners have requested at previous meetings: that the port be allowed to deviate from city code because of the industrial nature of its work. He referred to the city’s attention to view corridors in Uniontown as a change in direction.
Dirk Rohne: “The Port believes that this change in direction is not consistent with the goals and policies of the city’s comprehensive plan, because it will hamper the Port’s efforts to being jobs, and other things that are an integral part of the port’s mission. The Port also objects to this 11th hour change because it has not been vetted or considered as part of a larger process. And making such a significant change is not appropriate in the context of this process in which the port engaged in good faith. I’m asking you to reject this 11th hour change of this ordinance and allow the port and the city the time to work on a master plan.”
The city has considered allowing the port to request exceptions after they have come to the city with a master plan to explain why specific exceptions are necessary.
Planner Rosemary Johnson explained that the city had made clear from the beginning that the port would be subject to city code as proposed.
Rosemary Johnson: “Throughout the entire Bridge Vista Overlay amendment process it’s been made clear that the Port, Astoria Warehousing and the entire Bridge Vista area would be subject to the codes as they were being proposed. What the planned district did was that in the future, should the Port come in with a master plan, stating that those current codes could not work for them with what was in their master plan, at that point then the city council and the port could come to an arrangement where some of those codes that were applicable in the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone could be amended for the master plan.”
Councilor Joan Herman said she had read a previous port of Astoria master plan from 2001, in which the view corridors north of the two side streets should be preserved via creation of a park to prevent construction there.
In the end, the councilors agreed unanimously to keep the land north of Bay and Basin street, open with mandatory view corridors to preserve views. Any development on port property would have to adhere to city code and maintain 70 foot wide view corridors at the foot of those streets and beyond the river. Counselors agreed to this after they had affirmed that anyone builing on that parcel of port property would not be hindered significantly by maintaining the view corridors. The changes the council finally agreed on will become part of the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone. The council did a first reading of the amended proposal and it’s expected they will approve it at their next meeting.
Councilor Roger Rocka:
Roger Rocka: “I would say, I did exchange emails with Chairman Rohne of the port commission, and suggested that it would be a great idea for the two commissions to have a joint workshop session. And I think that was sort of underscored tonight because there is misunderstanding between us about what we are doing and so on. But beyond that I think it would be good for us to have a better understanding of what the port has in mind. Because right now we have no idea what they’re shooting for and the port needs to have an understanding of what our vision is, and what our limitations are. We have different responsibilities. We want the Port to succeed. But we also have the responsibility of representing our city and its citizens. Most of the time we are probably going to find ourselves in accord about what would be a good solution to things. Some of the time I’m sure we won’t. We will have a different opinion on what should happen. And tonight is an example of that. So that’s why I’m hoping we can have that meeting so we can clear the air between us, and have a better idea of where we stand.”
In other council business, the council approved the Uniontown Reborn plan. The plan aims to revitalize the Uniontown District on the west end of town to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and improve lighting and landscaping. The plan also includes changes to traffic patterns on Marine Drive, but those would require ODOT approval, and are unlikely to be approved soon because of state funding issues.
The council also voted tentatively to award an 11-year lease to American Cruise Lines to operate the 17th Street dock by the maritime museum where the coast guard ships are also moored. Councilors also approved sending council members to Walldorf, Germany, which is Astoria’s sister city, next May in honor of the 1,250th year since Walldorf‘s founding. Funds to pay for the trip, estimated at up to $2,500 per person, will come from lodging taxes. The city also approved replacing some well used city vehicles, including a 30-year-old Public Works Dept. truck, and two police vehicles that will be replaced with hybrids.
I’m Joanne Rideout reporting.