The Astoria City Council approved significant city code changes Monday night, the culmination of a lengthy process involving extensive public input. Joanne Rideout has details.
Script below or scroll down to Listen [run time: 5:20]
The new code modifies regulations affecting waterfront construction within city limits, in an area known as the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone, which runs from Second Street to Portway Street in the Uniontown district of the city, west of downtown.
The new code limits construction to 28 ft in height, with an exception to 35 ft. for businesses that provide public access. Buildings can occupy no more than 50 percent of a lot and can encompass up to 30,000 sq feet. The amendment also included changes that would preserve waterfront view corridors at the foot of Bay and Basin streets, changes which will positively affect small businesses in Uniontown by maintaining their views of the Columbia River.
The council held a second reading of the amendment and ultimately passed it unanimously. However, the decision happened amid continued pushback from the Port of Astoria. To allow members of the audience to weigh in again on the proposed code changes, Mayor Bruce Jones opened public comment during the meeting.
Port Commission President Dirk Rohne spoke, and recapping what he’d said at the previous meeting, objected to the Uniontown view corridors, which will affect how construction is situated on port property near the Astoria Megler Bridge. Rohne again called the the view corridor code changes “last minute,” and added that they amounted to “condemning city property.”
The council included those code changes after owners of the Workers Tavern and Columbia River Coffee Roasters raised objections to Port of Astoria plans to allow a hotel to be built on port waterfront property that would obstruct their views. The port owns a parcel of land, under the Astoria Megler Bridge, which it has leased to Hollander Hospitality to build another hotel on the waterfront. Hollander is the same company that is building a 45-foot tall hotel project at the foot of 2nd St., on the site of the old Ship Inn restaurant. The ensuing controversy over that project and the allowable height of buildings in that area of town was the inspiration for the more limited code that was passed at this meeting.
After Rohne’s comments during the public comment period, Councilor Roger Rocka asked city attorney Blair Henningsgaard to clarify comments about whether the city could actually be considered to be condemning port property. Here’s Blair Henningaard:
Blair Henningsgaard: “You can only condemn private property you can only condemn city property, so whatever happens it’s not a condemnation. I believe he’s referring to some statements that were made when this amendment was passed last week. It was suggested – I had been concerned about due process and allowing the property owner to address those questions…”
Rocka said that while he might be willing to discuss view corridors with the port, his view of the situation had not changed.
Roger Rocka: “I think the comments perhaps oversimply what the city’s role is. And the things that we need to worry about that the port doesn’t. We need lots of respect about infrastructure. Well, ,the Port uses our infrastructure. And so those are the things that we need to think about, and it’s very difficult for us to be gung-ho and supportive of what the Port is wanting to do, and we have no clue of what the Port is planning to do. We’ve heard some rumors and they’re not attractive rumors.”
Councilor Tom Brownson said the process to create the current code changes had been lengthy.
Tom Brownson: “With the exception of your previous director, and Mr. Spence, the Port was not in attendance. We’ve been having a long. year-long process on this whole thing, and I realize you guys are busy [Port Commission Chair Dirk Rohne interjects, “Except for that last bit.”]. Well, that’s when you showed up. That’s when you showed up. Right so, it’s not that we didn’t really work through this, and work hard and get a lot of detail.”
Councilor Joan Herman said she was not comfortable making changes to the proposed code to affect Uniontown view corridors because the citizens and business owners who had weighed in on the changes had not attended Monday’s meeting, because they thought the issue was solved. Mark 35.
Mayor Bruce Jones said he was very satisfied with the proposed code changes.
Bruce Jones: “So following this through the Planning Commission events, and to our own meetings over the last several months, I’m very satisfied with the Bridge Vista Overlay Zone code amendments. So I think it’s a very good and reasonable compromise.”
After the vote, the council moved on to other more routine matters, approving funding for sewer pipe repairs on Lexington ave. Councilor Roger Rocka commented on the difficult process the council had taken on as they amended city code.
Roger Rocka: “I’d just like to say I’m delighted to be talking about sewers – where there are no friendships lost, or people upset, Just a nice – sewer.”[Audience laughter…]
Councilors agreed at the end of the meeting to set up a joint meeting between the city and the Port of Astoria to discuss future planning.
I’m Joanne Rideout reporting.