Astoria is tackling the last piece of a plan that helps shape land use policy along the Columbia River.
With proposals for buildings and businesses in the works, some city councilors have been anxious to see the Riverfront Vision Plan completed. Outlined in 2009, it provides a blueprint for development and operates under core principles that include promoting river views and public access while preserving a working waterfront.
The City Council has already adopted standards for three sections: Bridge Vista in Uniontown, Civic Greenway east of downtown to Pier 39, and Neighborhood Greenway in Alderbrook.
The fourth section — the Urban Core — is a dense mix of commercial, residential and over-water structures that stretches from Second Street to 16th Street downtown. It is where former city planner Rosemary Johnson, now a consultant for the city, says there is potential for new development.
City councilors gave their approval Wednesday for City Manager Brett Estes to sign a contract with consultants and begin the lengthy process of collecting public input and developing code language for the Urban Core with the Astoria Planning Commission. They expect the process to take up to a year.
“A fast code amendment is six months,” Estes said.
Rather than wait for grant money to come through to fund work on the Urban Core next year at the earliest, city councilors asked staff in February to use capital improvement money to begin this year. Johnson, Estes, other city staff and consultants with Angelo Planning Group will begin to collect public input and work with city leaders to develop codes.
The city set aside around $80,000 for the project, and the consultants’ time is expected to cost about $48,000. Estes believes the entire project will come in under the total available amount.
“I don’t think we’re going to be surprised by what we hear in these public hearings,” City Councilor Cindy Price said.
Price, who has pushed the city to finish the Riverfront Vision Plan, expects residents will be concerned about preserving open areas and public space.
“I suspect it’s going to be even more advocating for open spaces and for preserving what we have, reusing the buildings that are there, not building out over the water … not allowing a lot of new development, period,” she said.
The historic downtown and surrounding woods and waterways are what makes Astoria attractive to people and are the main reasons it is thriving today, she said, arguing that the city should want to minimize new development.
But City Councilor Bruce Jones countered that the purpose of the Riverfront Vision Plan is not to ban development, but to find balance.
The Urban Core discussions will go through a public input process first and then to the Planning Commission before heading to City Council. Three planning commissioners attended the work session Wednesday, but only one of them spoke when Mayor Arline LaMear opened up the meeting to public comment.
Planning Commissioner Jan Mitchell said the city “dodged a bullet” when the economic downturn in 2008 ended several plans to build condos along the waterfront. Some city councilors worry such development now could make affordable and workforce housing even more difficult for people to find and create a community of second homeowners.
Mitchell wanted to remind the council: “The choices made for people who live in Astoria ultimately benefit the people who visit Astoria.”