Carleton Hart Architecture
Carleton Hart Architecture
The Astoria City Council expected to hear arguments Thursday that city boards were wrong to shoot down a proposed waterfront hotel, but instead received an entirely new set of plans.
After some confusion and controversy, city councilors voted to send the redesign of Hollander Hospitality’s four-story, Marriott-brand hotel back to the Design Review Committee for consideration. A majority of the council also reversed the decision by the Historic Landmarks Commission to deny the project.
Hollander Hospitality wants to build the hotel along the waterfront on lots that house two shuttered restaurants, The Ship Inn and Stephanie’s Cabin. When the Design Review Committee and Historic Landmarks Commission denied the project in July, citing issues with the hotel’s size, appearance and historical compatibility, the developer appealed to the City Council.
In the appeal, Hollander questioned the criteria the Historic Landmarks Commission used to reach a denial, saying the criteria didn’t apply since there are no adjacent historic buildings to evaluate new construction against. The commission’s review was triggered by the presence of a historic boiler, pilings and ballast in the Columbia River.
The majority of the City Council agreed, but it was one of the rare moments Thursday when Hollander’s representatives directly addressed their arguments for appealing the city boards’ decisions. Instead, they focused most on a new design for the hotel, submitted to city staff that morning.
The new design had not been reviewed by the city. The redesign shows a large hotel, still four stories tall, but minus The Ship Inn. In plans the city boards rejected, Hollander had planned to incorporate the restaurant.
The overall appearance of the hotel has also changed to reflect the cannery buildings that once existed along the waterfront, architects for Hollander told city councilors. The new design gained tentative admiration from some councilors and a few people in the audience.
But the new design also complicated the appeals process and City Council discussions, with councilors trying to determine what they would be approving, denying or sending back for further review — the old plans Hollander championed in the appeal, the old plans with the new plans attached, or the new plans alone.
“Can we not do what we came here to do?” City Councilor Cindy Price exclaimed at one point.
People who came to testify against Hollander’s old plans questioned whether the City Council should even hear the company’s presentation. Several people argued the new plans should first go through the city’s review process and evaluation by the Design Review Committee and the Historic Landmarks Commission. Price and City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill agreed.
“This is an issue that a lot of people care about and have commented on and are here to comment on tonight,” Nemlowill said. “And the council is not prepared to make a decision on this, the citizens are not prepared to provide input and staff has not done a technical analysis.”
“We were supposed to be looking at an appeal of a design that’s much different than what we’ve been presented with today,” she added. “And what we’ve been presented with might be a better design, but it’s brand new.”
After listening to the company’s presentation of the new design, Jan Faber, a resident, thanked Hollander for making some accommodations to issues and concerns raised at past hearings and meetings on the project. But, he maintained, the new design should go back for review.
“As far as I can see, this is a withdrawal of the appeal that was originally presented to you,” he told the council. “It’s not an appeal anymore, it’s a new proposal and if they want to bring modifications to the Design Review Committee, then that’s where it should go.”
Under the rules of Thursday’s appeal hearing, people were able to submit new information, City Manager Brett Estes said.
‘Land the plane’
Steven Hultberg, an attorney representing Hollander Hospitality, said he didn’t expect the City Council to come to a decision on the redesign Thursday night.
“We certainly want everyone to have an opportunity to take a look at these materials,” he said.
But, he added, they were looking for direction from councilors about how city criteria applied or didn’t apply to the project. The company has struggled to understand the best way to interpret city code.
“I want to try and land the plane in this town and create a hotel,” Mark Hollander, the company’s owner, said. “I’m just really hoping that we can figure this out soon, right, because I think it’s a legitimate proposal, a legitimate plan, and I think the town actually, in a sense, needs this.”
The City Council ultimately separated the Historic Landmarks Commission part of the appeal from the Design Review Committee portion. They voted unanimously to send the new design back to the Design Review Committee. They voted 3-2 to tentatively reverse the Historic Landmarks Commission’s denial of the old design.
“The (commission) had a difficult challenge in front of them to try to apply their criteria to this particular case and they did the best the could and within that they found some reason for denial,” City Councilor Tom Brownson said. Mayor Arline LaMear and City Councilor Bruce Jones agreed.
Price and Nemlowill voted “no,” arguing that the Historic Landmarks Commission should have a chance to review the new design. There was no chance for anyone at the meeting Thursday to comment on whether they thought the new design was historically compatible, they said.
If the commission had made a different case, Brownson said he might have been convinced, but he agreed with Hollander that the criteria was not clear and did not seem to apply to the hotel.
“We’re not done with this type of situation,” Brownson said of historic landmarks criteria. “This is going to come up again and again and again. So I think this is going to help inform everybody.”