Of the four park sites the Astoria City Council discussed selling at a meeting Wednesday, one could have its park designation removed and be put up for sale, one is off the table entirely and the remaining two are in limbo for now.
City councilors will consider removing Birch Field, a ballpark in Alderbrook, from the city’s list of parks with the hopes that it will be sold and developed to address housing needs. Questions remain about how feasible it would be for someone to develop the marshy field. Public Works staff said the site could also be a location for a stormwater treatment facility.
Of the four properties, Birch Field is considered the easiest to sell and the most feasible to develop.
City councilors asked staff to talk to surrounding property owners about any interest in the historic Tidal Rock site off Marine Drive near Fort George Brewery and the Astor Hotel, but will not take any other steps toward selling the property for now. The city has a one-year agreement with local artists to maintain the sunken, overgrown site and create an art installation there.
City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill, who is married to one of Fort George’s owners, said the brewery might be interested in Tidal Rock if it were put on the market.
“But I don’t know for what,” she said.
Staff will also gather more information about what it would mean to move a historic customs house replica from a park site that is complicated by city sewer lines and access issues near Safeway off Lief Erikson Drive. It is possible the site could be divided and one small section of the lot could be sold. There are still many more questions that need to be answered, said City Manager Brett Estes. City Councilor Tom Brownson pointed out there could be significant costs just to bring the property to a point where it is ready for sale.
Post Office Park, on 15th Street between Exchange Street and Franklin Avenue, is off the list. The city just entered into a five-year agreement with neighboring bed-and-breakfast owners to care for the park. A variety of historic designations complicate any plans to sell the site, which had little redevelopment potential to begin with, staff said.
Nemlowill asked Parks and Recreation Department Director Angela Cosby what would be the best possible thing to come out of the council’s discussion.
“What we need for these sites isn’t feasible,” Cosby said. “It hasn’t been for a long time and we don’t have an easy path for that to become feasible in the near future.”
During budget talks last year, the city discussed possibly selling underused parks with development potential to ease the burden on an overextended, unsustainable department. Estes brought on Rosemary Johnson, a retired city planner, as a consultant to dig further into the properties.
Cosby told councilors that selling a single site was unlikely to have much of an impact on the park’s finances overall.
“One site, probably not,” she said. “But I think all these small changes can really start adding up to be something.”
In the big picture, the park adoptions are also small things, she said, but they add up to create a larger impact.
The City Council was concerned about letting go of land only to regret the choice later. In her detailed memo to the council, Johnson noted that both Birch Field and the customs house site could be good places to locate a stormwater treatment facility.
The state does not yet require Astoria to test, evaluate and remove contaminants from its stormwater, but the city is in the middle of separating its combined sewer overflow. When that project is done, Public Works Director Jeff Harrington said the state Department of Environmental Quality could come back and require the city to come up with a plan to address the higher amounts of stormwater that will be going into the Columbia River and Youngs Bay.
A site like Birch Field could be used as a wetland treatment or bioswale for stormwater treatment — an option one Alderbrook resident said the neighborhood would prefer over housing.
Other properties that could be turned into treatment facilities exist in Astoria, Harrington said. It isn’t clear how critical Birch Field or the custom house site would be in the end, though Birch Field appears to be a good option. Nor is it known what the state may require. Standards change often. “We just don’t know what the future holds,” he said.