Astoria leaders are looking again at selling overwater property the city can’t afford to develop and has struggled to sell.
City councilors voted Monday to have staff hire a real estate agent to list 12 city-owned lots in Mill Pond Village, which are located over the pond.
Mayor Arline LaMear and City Councilor Cindy Price voted against the proposal, preferring instead to talk first with adjacent Mill Pond property owners and the homeowners association to gauge any interest in purchasing the lots.
While City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill said she could support that option as well, she felt the city would miss a big opportunity by not giving outside buyers a chance to purchase the lots. Councilors Bruce Jones and Tom Brownson voted with Nemlowill to bring on a real estate agent and list the properties.
The city has paid more than $50,000 in homeowners association fees and other expenses since Mill Pond developer Art DeMuro donated the properties to the city in 2012, City Manager Brett Estes said. DeMuro, who has since died, hoped the lots would fund development of Heritage Square, a city block in the center of downtown. The square is home to a city triumph, the Garden of Surging Waves, and another city dilemma: a large, open pit where a concrete pad caved in after heavy rains in 2010.
The city last listed the Mill Pond lots in 2013 as part of a program to sell excess properties and didn’t receive any offers.
Since the lots are based overwater, they are tricky — and expensive — to develop. Any developer looking to build on the lots would need to construct piers first, an undertaking that could cost more than $3 million per pier, according to some estimates.
“Individual construction of homes, as is done on the land portion of Mill Pond Village, would be unlikely since the entire pier would have to be built prior to the first unit,” noted Mike Morgan, a contract planner for the city, in a memo to the City Council.
The lots are just as much a dilemma to the homeowners association.
“We don’t know what to do with them either,” Cheryl Storey, president of the of the Mill Pond Village Owners Association, told the City Council.
She believes it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a developer to follow the association’s architectural guidelines when building homes on the pier lots. The association itself is interested in preserving views across the pond.
“We’re interested in just how to get rid of this issue,” Storey said. The association wants a “win-win” on both sides, she added, saying it doesn’t make sense for the city to continue paying association fees.
“Make us an offer,” Nemlowill suggested.
In other business, the City Council:
• Finalized an agreement with a group in Alderbrook to take over maintenance and care of Birch Field. City councilors had considered selling the underused ball field last year, but neighbors rallied in protest. They proposed caring for the park themselves and have since kept up on maintenance, made improvements and held community events.
• Heard a presentation from Craig Hoppes, superintendent of the Astoria School District, about a proposed $70 million bond to modernize the district’s five campuses. The bond will go to voters in November. The city councilors voiced their support of the school district’s efforts.