The Astoria Planning Commission on Tuesday night kicked off debate on the Urban Core, the final piece of the Riverfront Vision Plan that will guide future development along the Columbia River.
City leaders expect to spend at least 10 months discussing, debating and fine-tuning a planning document that helps shape land use policy.
Planning commissioners did not make any decisions Tuesday, or even dig too deeply into what kind of things should or shouldn’t be allowed to unfold in the Urban Core, a densely developed area downtown that extends from Second Street to 16th Street.
Instead, the session was a chance to “lay the framework for moving forward,” City Manager Brett Estes said.
The Urban Core is an area where planning consultant Rosemary Johnson believes there is potential for new development. Tuesday’s meeting covered the history of development in the area and discussed what exists there today.
Matt Hastie, of Angelo Planning Group, ran through a number of questions the Planning Commission will need to consider over the coming months. For example: Does the commission want to restrict what kind of buildings and businesses can set up shop over the water? If there will be restrictions, how does the city want to address things that already exist along the waterfront?
The goal is to establish guidelines that find a balance between flexibility and clarity, Hastie said. Easy to administer, devoid of ambiguity.
Planning commissioners had few questions, though Commissioner Jan Mitchell gave Hastie a list of items she needed to better understand, echoing questions and concerns voiced elsewhere. These included the Port of Astoria’s plans along the waterfront, the economics of building over the water, and what the costs would be to create and sustain a parking district, among other issues.
Elizabeth Menetrey, who is program director at Coast Community Radio and who served on the early Riverfront Vision Plan committee, referred to recent plans to build a four-story hotel farther west along the waterfront, in the Bridge Vista section. That project, while allowed under city code, was in opposition to an overall city goal of maintaining sweeping, open vistas along the water’s edge in that area, she said.
For the Urban Core, the Planning Commission has an opportunity to “make a nebulous vision firm.”
“I think here you have a chance to be a little conservative in what we allow,” she said.
A town hall meeting on Sept. 13 will give the community a chance to learn more about the Urban Core and weigh in with suggestions. A location for the town hall meeting has not been set, but will be finalized soon, Estes said.