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Local News: Astoria City Council OK’s key waterfront project and code changes

At Monday night’s Astoria City Council meeting, councilors again faced a full house and a packed agenda. Joanne Rideout reports.

Fort George Brewery’s impending purchase of the sprawling Astoria Warehousing property on the waterfront on Marine Drive was front and center in the meeting, with the brewery intending to use the property for storage and distribution space.

To that end, the brewery received approval from the council for a wholesale liquor license for the premises. The big ticket item of the evening was the city council’s approval of $1 million in state grant funds to clean up in-ground contamination on the Astoria Warehousing site. The funds, approved under Oregon House Bill 5050, allow Business Oregon (the Oregon Business Development Department) to disburse the funds to the City of Astoria. The city then as a separate agreement with a company called Blue Jumpsuit, LLC, registered to Chris Nemlowill, who is one of the founders of Ft George. Blue Jumpsuit represents Fort George in the contract and will use the funds to clean up the Astoria Warehousing site.

Nemlowill was at the meeting, and spoke to the council. He said Fort George had spent the last 20 months considering the purchase of waterfront property in Astoria. He also explained the origin of the name Blue Jumpsuit.

Chris Nemlowill: “Blue Jumpsuit was named for one of the first things we saw when we went on to the property. There was all these blue jumpsuits on the wall when you first walked in. It was what all the employees wore who were down there. We thought it was the best thing to name the LLC on the waterfront after all the blue collar workers that worked down there. And so we named it “Blue Jumpsuit, LLC.”

Council members were happy to hear that a piece of property critical to the preservation of the waterfront would be purchased by a local business.

Councilor Roger Rocka: “You judge what somebody will do by what they have done, and Fort George has been an outstanding citizen in our community.”

Perhaps the biggest issue on the agenda was the council’s consideration of an amendment to city code regarding waterfront development in a stretch along the river known under city code as the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone. The zone extends from Portway St to Second St.

Councilors ultimately voted 4-1 to approve the first reading of a proposal that would limit building height to 28 feet, with the possibility of 35 (that’s three stories) for buildings that allow public access to the Riverwalk through their property in exchange for the extra height. Maximum building mass would be 30,000 sq feet. The amendment limits buildings to occupying no more than 50 percent of a lot and buildings must honor a north-south orientation to preserve views.

The council approved the proposal on a 4-1 vote for the first reading. If there are no further changes to the amendment, the council could approve it at their next meeting and it would then become part of city code.

In the 4-1 vote, Councilor Joan Herman voted no because the proposal did not include a suggestion she made to limit two story buildings to 20,000 square feet to control structure sprawl.

Since the council also wanted to allow further discussion of a proposal to preserve view corridors in the Uniontown district for businesses on the south side of Marine Drive under the bridge, the discussion on those changes was continued till the next council meeting. Under discussion is the view across port property near the Maritime Memorial, currently under lease to Hollander Hospitality. Hollander is the company that gained approval to build the 45-foot tall Fairfield hotel on the site of the old Ship Inn Restaurant on the waterfront at 2nd street. Hollander also reportedly plans to build a hotel on the Uniontown port property.

Other items discussed in the meeting included a proposed condominium development in the Mill Pond neighborhood of Astoria on land currently owned by the city. A developer is proposing building condos on already platted lots, which would require that piers be built over the water in the pond. Homeowners have made an offer to the city to help compensate Astoria for the property and leave it undeveloped. During council discussion. Mayor Jones said the homeowner’s proposal did not adequately compensate the city for the loss of tax revenue, but the council ultimately allowed the Mill Pond Homeowners Association to reconfigure their offer for future consideration during the council’s November 4th meeting.

The council also approved a first reading of the Astoria Uniontown Reborn Master Plan, which would reconfigure traffic patterns, encourage pedestrian and bicycle access, and set other code requirements to strengthen the livability and economic vitality of that area.

If the council approves this plan, it would still require state funding to implement parts of it related to the Oregon Dept of Transportation. ODOT project manager Mike Duncan, who spoke at the meeting said it could be a decade before Astoria would see any state funding to implement traffic pattern changes on Marine Drive. Other parts of the plan under city control, such as landscaping and lighting, could be implemented much sooner. The council voted unanimously to a first reading of the plan, and could approve it at their next meeting.

The Astoria City Council meets again on Monday, Oct 7, at 7 pm, in the city council chambers at 1095 Duane Street.