Concern about development over the Columbia River and a lack of parking dominated the discussion Thursday night about a city plan that will guide future development along downtown Astoria’s waterfront.
Several people who attended a town hall meeting at Clatsop Community College’s Columbia Hall argued overwater development is too costly for most developers to attempt.
Though city code allows for such development — a fact many in the room demonstrated they wanted to change — “the financial practicality is almost zero,” said Trila Bumstead, president of the broadcast company Ohana Media Group.
Stringent environmental requirements for overwater development and the cost of meeting seismic codes present further barriers, argued Fishhawk Fisheries owner Steve Fick and developer Chester Trabucco.
Other attendees were wary, pointing to recent proposals to build new hotels along the waterfront and the specter of a number of riverfront condo plans in the early 2000s that could have significantly changed Astoria’s appearance and public access to the river.
Thursday’s meeting marked the beginning of a lengthy public process and was intended as a time for the city’s consultants to begin to collect feedback and questions from the community about what people want to see happen — or not happen — in the Urban Core.
The Urban Core includes the waterfront from Second Street to 16th Street and is the final piece of the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan, which shapes land use policy along the river. The Urban Core includes a mix of commercial, residential and overwater structures. It is unique from other areas outlined by the Riverfront Vision Plan in that it sweeps up and includes portions of downtown.
The City Council has already adopted design and development standards for the other three sections of the Riverfront Vision Plan: Neighborhood Greenway in Alderbrook, Civic Greenway from Pier 39 to the eastern edge of downtown and Bridge Vista in Uniontown.
When a final set of standards is adopted for the Urban Core, it could dictate everything from what kind of buildings and businesses are allowed to what, if anything, will be allowed over the water.
In June, the City Council approved a contract with consultants to begin the process of collecting public input and developing code language for the Urban Core. City councilors opted not to wait for grant funding for the work, choosing instead to use city money and start immediately.
On Thursday, some people in the audience said the discussion about the high cost of developing projects over water was evidence of the value of the land, and that it should be preserved for views and public access. Others, like George Hague, who lives at Columbia House condominiums, said techniques intended to preserve views, such as setting new buildings back from the edge of a lot or stepping back portions of a building as it rises, would not be enough.
Hague and others also pushed for a parking plan before more intensive development is allowed.
Trabucco asked if the city had considered leasing the overwater sites from the state — an option taken by some businesses already on the waterfront — to preserve views. It is an option, City Manager Brett Estes replied.
Thursday’s meeting reassured Astoria resident Terrie Powers, who shares some of Hague’s concerns. She plans to attend the many other public discussions that will take place with the Planning Commission over the coming months.
“I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that has already gone into it,” she said.
The entire process is expected to continue through April, with final standards adopted in May.