Changes are afoot at two of Astoria’s most visible pieces of vacant land.
A new Dollar General is being proposed for the Mill Pond neighborhood. The owner of NAPA Auto Parts in Mill Pond, meanwhile, is preparing to buy the former Astoria Ford site off Youngs Bay to build a new store.
Barry Hess owns 18 NAPA branches regionally, including in Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside and Long Beach, Washington. He said he is buying the former Astoria Ford property from owner Ruth Birdwell and hopes to move into the new store by January.
Demolition crews are tearing down the former auto dealership, which went vacant late last year after Dane Gouge opened the new Astoria Ford at the North Coast Retail Center in Warrenton. Birdwell, the widow of late Pacific Northwest car salesman Ray Birdwell, took control of the property after he died in 2013. She could not be reached for comment about the potential sale.
The site includes more than 3.5 acres of buildable land and about 40 acres of submerged land jutting into Youngs Bay. The zoning is general commercial, which allows anything from parking lots and restaurants to hotels and apartments. The parcels had been listed at $3.5 million.
Hess said he is looking to buy the entire property, which includes four lots. “We think the Astoria Ford piece is going to be more visible,” he said, adding his location in Mill Pond can be challenging for customers to navigate through Astoria to reach. “We’re hoping with a new location that we’re more efficient as far as operations are concerned.”
Hess said the new location will carry about twice the inventory of the existing Astoria store. He declined to comment on any effect of the new location on the future of his NAPA branch on Main Avenue in Warrenton, which he said is struggling. In the past several years, Warrenton has added both an O’Reilly Auto Parts and an AutoZone fronting U.S. Highway 101 at the retail center.
The Astoria Design Review Committee will hold a public hearing in August on a proposal by Cross Development to build a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General with 29 parking spots at Commercial Street and Marine Drive.
Laura Somerville, a spokeswoman for Dollar General, said the national retailer is in a due-diligence phase with Heestand Family LLC. The company owns the property leased to NAPA, along with two lots to the west where the store is proposed.
“We are reviewing the opportunity to add a new store in the area, but we have not committed to doing so just yet,” Somerville wrote in an email. “Based on our current timeline, we anticipate to have a final decision on this location by late spring 2018.”
Somerville said the new store would employ six to 10 people. Dollar General has more than 13,000 locations nationwide, including about 10 in Oregon.
The property where the store would be located is within the Gateway and Civic Greenway overlay zones, requiring design review by the city. The land is zoned local service development, which City Planner Nancy Ferber said includes retail stores like Dollar General as outright permitted uses.
At the corner of the proposed store site is TP Freight Lines. Justin Henry, an operations manager with TP Freight Lines, said the company hasn’t heard much from the Heestand family.
“We know that the property is up for sale, and we’ve started looking at other options in the Astoria-Warrenton area for a freight dock,” he said.