The Astoria City Council has decided to officially hire acting City Manager Brett Estes. Also at its Monday meeting, the council allowed development possibilities on either side of the civic greenway along the Riverwalk.
Estes doesn’t have the title yet because discussions are underway, but he said terms are “90 percent agreed upon.”
“I’m really excited and really humbled that the City Council would make the offer. I’ve been here for seven years and it’s great to move to city manager.”
Of all the options discussed for the Riverfront Vision plan, the council chose to clarify:
• there would be no variance of building height in the 500-foot setback zones;
• the Planning Commission would add language to allow current buildings, some which may not comply with to-be-set standards, to be rebuilt in the event of a fire or other natural disaster;
• the Planning Commission will add the Port of Astoria’s request for a “master plan” process, which will allow the Port to suggest exemptions on a case-by-case basis to the City Council;
• it is noted the Port’s “master plan” will exclude the two condominium and one vacant lots east of 39 Street;
• restaurants were prohibited on overwater lots and the city did not adopt the first reading of the map amendment, which would have allowed the creation of a residential zone in one specific location, however language remained in the updated code, which can be applied anywhere.
The meeting was well-attended, with standing-room only, and the issue was thoroughly contested. The council and public in attendance decided a five-minute limit was appropriate for each speaker.
What the Planning Commission proposed was near middle ground, but many thought the proposal was too much and others debated it was too little.
However, there was little consensus between those opposed or those in favor. Each individual wanted different outcomes for different reasons.
Floyd Holcom began developing properties in 1998 and said he brought the little family fortune he had to Astoria to invest. He had many issues with the proposal, but overall did not see it allowing enough leniency.
Most others who spoke in opposition mentioned preservation of river vistas. David Myers said he wanted as few buildings as possible, as low as possible.
“The losses can be spread among thousands of people, which is harder to measure,” he said.
Candidate for Ward 3 Cindy Price said without clear language in the code, there would be an open door for developers to debate intent.
“The riverfront is very much what makes a part of the magic that is real,” she said. “There is already a large compromise for docks and piers.”
Steve Fulton expressed concern about the floodplain.
“The base of a building has to be 1 foot above flood elevation,” he said.
Right now, the city does not have restrictions set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Fulton said it would be “premature to go ahead.”
Most echoed agreement when the City Council decided to exclude restaurants from the spaces north of the trolley tracks. The Port of Astoria addition of the “master plan” was less agreed upon, in part because many were unclear if there was a vote from all five council members.
The City Council has the authority to revisit any part of the code at any time, but the extra verbiage could put the city on the defense if the Port of Astoria wants to press for an exemption.
Estes said the Riverfront Vision Plan has been in place since 2008, however this meeting marked the implementation of the codes into law.