An education and child care center slated to move into a building on Port of Astoria property last month is in limbo.
The Astoria City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to uphold a Planning Commission decision to allow Shooting Stars Child Development Center to operate out of a building on Gateway Avenue, shooting down an appeal by Chris Connaway, president of the local longshore union chapter.
Connaway had argued that the center is a multiuse facility and should be considered under more stringent conditions outlined in the city’s development code. He and others involved in the hearing now have 21 days to appeal the City Council’s decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
Until the appeals process is over, Denise Giliga, owner of Shooting Stars, says the center is stuck between its current location at St. Mary Star of the Sea on Grand Avenue and the new location on Gateway. The center’s lease with the Star of the Sea church ends Sept. 30.
Giliga and her staff had hoped to spend the month of August getting the Gateway building, formerly used by the Oregon State Police, ready for students. She had also planned to add 20 more slots at the new location, bumping the total of children enrolled in the center’s programs to approximately 60.
These students are now “in holding,” she said Tuesday. “Today would have been our first day of school.”
The City Council’s decision Tuesday, like the Planning Commission’s decision in July, hinged on how they defined Shooting Stars — as a primarily educational facility, or a day care. Day cares would not be permitted in the Gateway Avenue area under city zoning.
Mayor Arline LaMear and City Councilors Bruce Jones, Tom Brownson and Cindy Price voted in favor of upholding the Planning Commission’s decision. LaMear and Jones argued that, though Shooting Stars takes children as young as 6 weeks old, education takes place at a very young age and Shooting Stars is not a day care; it is an education center.
They also did not accept Connaway’s characterization of the area as an industrial area that would be unsafe for a child care center. Price said more traffic travels along downtown’s Commercial Street, where a variety of businesses are located, than on Gateway Avenue.
Councilor Zetty Nemlowill was the only councilor who voted in favor of Connaway’s appeal.
“I agree that there is definitely a demand for quality child care in Astoria,” she said, “but I also feel that just because there’s a demand that doesn’t mean we should allow day cares to go into inappropriate places. This is a land use issue and we must apply our development code.”
Connaway did not say if he would appeal the City Council’s decision to the state, saying only as he left the meeting Tuesday night, “I just might.”
Several councilors also expressed concern over a point Connaway made about the fact that the Gateway building is located in the tsunami inundation zone. However, they concluded that tsunamis have not been factored into Astoria’s land use decisions before, and to do so now would likely require a development code update.
The fractured vote echoed what happened with the Planning Commission when they considered Shooting Star’s request in July. Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the center, with those in favor of the permit request accepting the center’s definition of itself as primarily an educational facility.
However, Commissioner Daryl Moore contended that Shooting Stars is a day care center and therefore a use not permitted. Commissioners Kent Easom and Jennifer Cameron-Lattek also voted to deny the permit, saying they believed the Gateway building was the wrong location.