Planners to present one or two scenarios at Nov. 18 workshopThe Portland planning and urban design firm hired to lead the redevelopment of the Safeway/ American Legion block for the city of Astoria received a barrage of comments at a community workshop Wednesday.
Moore Iacofano Goltsman (MIG) heard that residents have a strong interest in creating a cluster of civic uses - for example, a community meeting space and outdoor plaza - that would support private development around the area.
The MIG team also recognized that the community was questioning whether the presence of Clatsop Community College was in the best interest of downtown, or even feasible.
"We need the color green," resident Patrick Overton said. "We need a lot of life. We need a place where people can connect with each other. We need a center, a heart or soul for this community."
MIG resurrected the results of previous workshops held in 2001 and 2002, after Safeway announced plans to close its downtown store at 1153 Duane St. Overarching options included developing the block for community use, creating mixed-use development (public and private ownership), or using the area as part of a college campus.
The previous ideas were used as jumping-off point to discuss what citizens now envision as a good use for the space.
Harnessing the funds of the library to build a new facility, and combining that with a senior center or community center, were just a few of the ideas floated at the meeting. Using the space to help alleviate downtown parking was another idea.
"If you provide more lanes, you'll get more traffic," Astoria resident Mary Nally said. "It's the same thing with parking spots."
But others voiced concerns about providing
adequate parking space for the Liberty Theater, especially after its renovation is completed.
Mayor Willis Van Dusen suggested an open space that could be used differently depending on the event, for example, it could accommodate parking and the Sunday Market.
"Just like a stage," he said. "It could be different daily. If the Liberty Theater is putting something on, make sure it's free."
Other residents voiced reservations about constructing another public building that needs money to support it, and taking the property out of the city's tax base. Creating a park that needs to be maintained would also generate an additional cost for the city.
But Laura Snyder, owner of Lucy's Books, said she was wary of the option that used the space for retail.
"For our population, we can't fill up what we have," she said.
Developing the Safeway site will involve considerations other than just how to use the land. The American Legion owns a three-story building on the property, and members have voted to remain in that space. Additionally, the $750,000 put up by the state would need to be repaid if the area isn't developed for public use.
MIG's project team and the city of Astoria are under pressure to move on the project quickly. The final design must be submitted to later than Jan. 1 to Oregon Housing and Community Services, the agency that financed the purchase of the old downtown Safeway property.
MIG will hold a second workshop 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18, where planners will present one or two preferred scenarios for the space and discuss their economic feasibility. After gathering more input, MIG will present the information to the Astoria City Council at its Dec. 6 meeting.
MIG Project Manager Brian Scott, who worked on a project in Astoria nearly 20 years ago, said the town and the development possibilities have changed dramatically.
"There is a lot going on in Astoria right now," he said. "This is remarkable. In a town of under 10,000 people you have no less than 17 projects under way. It means there is some opportunity for this site you wouldn't have dreamed of 10 years ago," Scott said.