Plans to build a four-story hotel along the Columbia River have failed for a second time.
Astoria’s Design Review Committee was split 2-2 at a hearing Tuesday night on whether to approve a new design for Hollander Hospitality’s 60-plus room Fairfield Inn and Suites. The size of the hotel was the primary issue. With only four committee members present, the split vote resulted in a tentative denial of the project.
Mark Hollander, the owner of Hollander Hospitality, who attended the hearing, would not say if he plans to appeal the decision to the City Council.
Hollander appealed to the City Council after the Design Review Committee and the Historic Landmarks Commission shot down a previous version of the hotel in July. But at the appeals hearing, instead of arguing the merits of the hotel’s design, architects presented entirely new plans. The City Council sent these new plans back to the Design Review Committee.
The old design featured a standard Marriott-brand look that critics derisively called “a cigar box.” The design would have incorporated The Ship Inn restaurant as a lobby and dining area. The new design got rid of The Ship Inn and was intended to evoke Astoria’s 19th-century cannery buildings, featuring details found in other historic structures — a response to feedback received at previous meetings, developers said.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between the old and the new,” said Craig Riegelnegg, with Carleton Hart Architecture. The city pointed the developer to a specific “working waterfront” style, he added.
Hotels are an outright permitted use where Hollander wants to build, but the area falls under Bridge Vista, a section of the Riverfront Vision Plan that outlines design and height requirements intended to preserve public views and access to the river.
Most everyone — from critics to city board members — agreed Hollander’s new design was an improvement.
But committee members Sarah Jane Bardy and Hilarie Phelps voted against the project, arguing that the scale of the hotel did not suit the area. Size remained a sticking point for many who testified against the project.
Hollander is not interested in further limiting the size of the building.
“I’ve gone round and round to try and ask this town what they want within the code and that’s what I feel I’m presenting,” he said Tuesday. “We’re at this point where I don’t know how much more we can keep designing this thing and accomplish what you demanded within your code.”
“I appeal to the fact that I tried to listen to the community,” he added. “I know there’s been opposition but I’ve been in this town for two years, I’ve got a lot of people who are interested in this happening. They don’t necessarily show up at these meetings, no, but I think there are a lot of people who are in support of this project, too, that just aren’t here.”
He said the hotel will be a positive contribution to Astoria.
Committee member Leanne Hensley initially agreed with Bardy and Phelps. She said the fourth floor seemed to be an issue and wondered if there was a way to redesign it. Later, Hensley said she didn’t see any reason, looking at criteria listed in the staff report, why the design should be denied. She said it was clear the developers had put a lot of time and research into their proposal. She and Jared Rickenbach, the committee president, voted in favor. Rickenbach was the only committee member who approved of the first design back in the summer.
City planning staff did not recommend either approving or denying the project. A report laid out a number of issues and conditions and asked the committee to interpret city code and decide whether the project met the city’s criteria.
City staff disagreed about whether a section of the code that addresses the scale of a building should apply to Hollander’s project, City Manager Brett Estes explained. While planning staff believe the code applies to new construction in this case, City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard said the code could be interpreted to apply only to modifications to existing buildings. Since Hollander no longer plans to incorporate the old Ship Inn restaurant with the new hotel, Henningsgaard argued questions about scale may not apply.
But, Bardy said, “I just feel that these seats, our roles, are not only to enforce the code but also to represent the community and there is such an overwhelming outcry with all the same issue which is scale. I don’t think we should ignore that.”