The Astoria City Council, looking to free up an overburdened Parks and Recreation Department, will discuss the potential sale of park land.
Some city councilors see selling underused park land as one way to put the department on a path to long-term sustainability and potentially open up land to development. Beyond parks, the sale of city-owned land could make property available for affordable housing, City Manager Brett Estes said. Any such effort on housing would be led by the community development department.
The four parks councilors plan to talk about at a work session Wednesday morning are ones the city has contemplated selling before. They include the site of Astoria’s first post office, now marked by an obelisk, and a historic reconstruction of a customs house — both the first such establishments of their kind west of the Rocky Mountains. The other two sites are Birch Field, a marshy ballpark in Alderbrook, and the historic Tidal Rock site downtown across the street from the Blue Scorcher Bakery and Fort George Brewery.
If the City Council wants to sell the parks, Rosemary Johnson, the city’s consultant and a former city planner, recommends they direct staff to begin the steps for selling Birch Field, complete a relocation and engineering evaluation for the custom house and contact adjacent property owners about Tidal Rock.
The Post Office Park is not a good candidate for sale, Johnson said. Developing it for other uses is not really feasible and there are complications because of its status as a historic site. There is also an adoption agreement between the parks department and neighboring bed-and-breakfast owners, Pam and Dave Armstrong, to maintain the site. The State Historic Preservation Office has said it would not likely support removing the park from public ownership.
The other sites are still up for debate, though. The parks department has classed them as underutilized and potentially able to be developed, Johnson wrote. She identified Birch Field as “the most feasible to sell and redevelop.”
“It has no improvements on the site other than a neighborhood ball field configuration,” she wrote, estimating the field could accommodate a maximum of eight single-family residential units as an outright use, or up to 16 multifamily units with conditional use approval. Given the field’s proximity to four sewer outfalls, additional city stormwater treatment facilities could also be placed there.
The parks department’s 2016 master plan noted that the approximately 1-acre field is rarely used except by neighborhood dog walkers. To sell the property, the city would need to remove the field from Astoria’s list of designated city parks. Given the marshy, wet nature of the site, Johnson also advised having the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce review Birch Field as potential wetlands.
The other sites, with their historic designations and other factors, are a tougher sell.
The customs house site, besides featuring a historic structure with some restrictions limiting what can and cannot be done with it, also provides a cul-de-sac access for nearby houses and parking for the Columbia Field baseball field. A major city sewer line that serves a motel runs on the east side of the property. Two other nearby city sewer lines that serve the entire city run nearby. This site could also be a good location for a stormwater treatment facility in the future, Johnson said.
Tidal Rock would likely need further historic reviews before being sold or altered because of its archaeological features. The sunken park with its namesake tidal rock, a survey monument from 1853, cannot be filled in. The historic rock and the chair walls — structures that tied into tunnels for city utilities — under Marine Drive must remain visible.
Johnson said the property could be divided. The portion of the lot that does not include the historic features could be sold. But the park may be of most value to the bakery and brewery across the street.
The city has an agreement with artist, landscaper and gardener Jessica Schleif to clean up and renovate the park as well as install temporary visual art installations this year with other collaborators.
A number of residents publicly said they do not support the sale of park land, worrying what it means to take green spaces out of public ownership.
George “Mick” Hague, who attended meetings when the parks master plan was being developed and finalized in 2016, has said selling park land goes against what people expressed during that planning process, and against other safeguards the city has established to maintain diverse park land.
The City Council is not expected to take any formal action Wednesday, and there is not usually a public comment period included during work sessions.
Parks under review
The Astoria City Council on Wednesday will discuss the potential sale of four city parks.
• Birch Field: A wet, marshy ballpark just under an acre in size in Alderbrook that is considered in poor condition with very low use beyond dog walking.
• U.S. Custom House: A reconstruction of the first customs house built west of the Rocky Mountains that is located across the street from Safeway off Lief Erikson Drive.
• Post Office Park: A postage-stamp sized park on 15th Street between Exchange Street and Franklin Avenue. An obelisk commemorates where the first U.S. post office west of the Rocky Mountains was once located.
• Tidal Rock: A sunken, historic park with difficult public access on Duane Street and 15th Street.