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Local News: Astoria City Council denies Grocery Outlet store

Local News: Astoria City Council denies Grocery Outlet store

A discount grocery store proposed for Astoria’s east end was on the agenda Monday night at the council meeting. Joanne Rideout reports.

The Grocery Outlet store proposal for the Astoria Mill Pond neighborhood hit a big roadblock at last night’s city council meeting. 

After almost two hours of discussion, the council voted tentatively to deny the project, by upholding a previous denial issued by the Astoria Design Review Commission.

There were numerous areas the council was asked to weigh in on, all of them related to design and orientation of the building and parking lot areas. The council was only permitted to address matters related to site design, and was not allowed to consider traffic and safety issues for this decision. Public comment, which had been open at the previous meeting, was closed for this meeting.

In their discussion, councilors said the building was not a good fit for the site, that the design created hazards for pedestrians, and that it would not comply with standards for a building in a gateway area of the city.

Councilor Jessamyn West referenced city code for that area of the city in deciding how to vote.

Jessamyn West: “One of my main concerns was also that, on page 31 of the appeal, that the buildings should have a pedestrian oriented street front with no vehicle use between building and street. And so for me, I also didn’t see the site plan as really even close to sufficiently addressing that, because no matter what, pedestrians are still having to walk through a parking lot to get to the store itself. I tried to look at that from every different angle, in reference to the code. And in talking about the historic character, it’s my understanding from the appeal on Page 39, if the project is large, or a major focus, it should be compatible with the area and complimentary to the city.”

City Planner Johnson affirmed that the proposed Grocery Outlet building, at 16,000 sq feet,  was larger than other structures in the immediate vicinity, including the new co-op, at 11,500 sq ft. 

Mayor Bruce Jones said he had trouble asking the project to conform to the historic character of buildings in the city, since the new Astoria Co-op building a block away was a modern structure.

Councilor Joan Herman said the Grocery Outlet decision was the most difficult she had encountered in her 13 months as a member of the council. She said the co-op’s tasteful use of wood in their building design made it more in keeping with the city’s historic character.

Joan Herman: “I guess my issue is not that the building is contemporary, but the design is just – blah. I know that’s not technical. But it is in a prominent spot. And it will be highly visible for anyone coming from the west. So I just feel that highly visible spot deserves a better design.”

Councilor Roger Rocka said he had no objection to a modern building, but said in some ways the project seemed like a very valiant attempt to hammer a square peg into a triangular hole, referring to the odd shape of the property at the intersection of Marine Drive and Commercial Streets.

Roger Rocka:” Another example in the packet is, the Staples store in Warrenton. And I think what we are talking about for a small city setting is not the kind of store you’d put in a mall.”

At the end of the meeting, the council passed a tentative motion to request city staff to prepare findings that would uphold the denial rendered previously by the Design Review Commission. 

The city council will cast final votes on that motion at their next meeting on February 18. That meeting falls on a Tuesday instead of the usual Wednesday because of the Presidents Day holiday.