Astoria took its first stab at planning Uniontown’s future Wednesday night.
A crowd representing diverse interests and backgrounds peered at maps and wrote questions, concerns and observations on yellow sticky notes as they considered the historic neighborhood’s transportation needs and debated what they would like to see in terms of businesses, buildings, housing and recreation.
“It’s really about balance,” said Michael Duncan, senior regional planner and grant manager with the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The Uniontown Reborn study is funded by state grant money and intended to lay the groundwork for a number of different improvements to the city’s western gateway.
Duncan described the study as a “land use first” process.
“We’re looking at how Uniontown wants to grow up and matching that with a transportation plan they’ll want to use,” he explained.
Consultants and project managers identified a slew of existing constraints and possible opportunities in Uniontown and presented these to the audience on Wednesday, asking for feedback.
Property ownership is fragmented and divided into small parcels, they noted, while Bridge Vista, established under the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan and designed to preserve views of the river and bridge, affects new development and requires a lengthy public process.
City parking requirements create a barrier to new development, while existing businesses rely on on-street parking on Marine Drive. There is a lack of public spaces. And, Uniontown’s economic base is still primarily rooted in resource-based industries like timber and seafood processing, even as much of the rest of Astoria seems to be shifting away from these traditional jobs.
An early city survey asked people to use a word to describe Uniontown as it exists now. People wrote words like “shabby,” “industrial,” “dirty,” “old,” “affordable,” “neglected” and “diverse.”
When asked how they hoped to be able to describe the area in the future, they wrote words like “welcoming” and “vibrant.” The words “historic” and “affordable” popped up in both instances, however.
In surveys and conversations, consultants heard from residents, businesses and the community that it is important to preserve Uniontown’s historic character and the existing old buildings. On Wednesday, a large group considering Uniontown’s future economic growth and development emphasized on a note they wrote together that they are concerned about local small businesses getting moved out.
“How do we keep people?” they asked.
They worried about repeating mistakes made elsewhere when development occurred rapidly and without careful planning and longtime businesses and residents, no longer able to afford the area or compete, were forced out.
On the transportation side, constraints include limited access to commercial and recreational destinations, unsafe conditions — especially unsafe pedestrian crossings on Marine Drive — problematic traffic patterns in the summer months, traffic concerns around Port of Astoria-related operations and limited parking. Among the potential solutions, consultants listed reconfiguring Marine Drive and opening up access to pedestrians and cyclists.
But Marc Rodman, a five-year Uniontown resident, remains convinced the state and the city need to look outside Uniontown to begin addressing traffic congestion issues.
“We have to figure that out from both ends of town,” he said.
Wednesday’s community meeting was the first of several the city plans to host, said City Manager Brett Estes. Consultants expect the entire study process to stretch into next summer. They hope to have a finalized study and list of recommendations to the Planning Commission and the City Council sometime between June and November.