The Astoria City Council reached a consensus Tuesday night on development restrictions around the Astoria Bridge, along with limits on chain hotels and restaurants.
The Bridge Vista overlay zone, one of four areas in the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan under discussion for more than a decade, covers properties between Portway and Second streets. Proposed code amendments have been driven by a desire to preserve the public’s view of the bridge and the Columbia River amid mounting pressure for new hotels and other development.
City councilors agreed on a set of restrictions for new buildings, including a 28-foot height limit with stepbacks for higher floors, or 35 feet if the developer grants public access. Each building would be limited to 30,000 square feet. Buildings would only be able to occupy half of a lot’s area and would require a 60-foot view corridor to the river.
Bridge Vista would also include special plan districts on Port of Astoria property and around the shuttered Astoria Warehousing, a large collection of waterfront warehouses under contract to be sold. The Port and whoever buys Astoria Warehousing would be able to develop master plans and present the blueprints to the City Council for possible exceptions to the building restrictions.
The proposed code amendments will come back to the City Council on Sept. 30 for more deliberation and a possible first reading. The amendments must go through two readings before being adopted.
Much of the Bridge Vista discussion has been driven by hotel proposals, such as Bellingham, Washington, developer Mark Hollander’s attempts to build Marriott franchises in Astoria. Councilors have wrestled with balancing the public’s right to river views, respecting private property rights and limiting the spread of chain businesses.
Mayor Bruce Jones made a motion to have staff look into restrictions on corporate chains in city limits, which the City Council unanimously approved.
“I agree with my colleagues and neighbors that want to keep more corporate chain hotels from our waterfront,” he said. “The more national chain businesses come to Astoria, the less unique we are. And our uniqueness … is a huge part of our value proposition, what makes us love this community.”
But blocking corporate chain hotels through the back door by height restrictions is an abuse of power on property rights, the mayor said. “If we’re going to tackle the issue of corporate chain hotels, let’s do it forthright and head on,” he said.
City Councilor Joan Herman agreed with Jones’ push to restrict chain businesses, but also expressed concern over the latitude the plan districts, which cover much of Bridge Vista, would give developers. She was struck by how the old Waldorf Hotel next to City Hall is only 24,000 square feet but could hold 40 units of workforce housing.
“To me, that says that we can allow property owners on the waterfront to make a profit and yet still preserve views,” she said.
Councilor Jessamyn West reiterated her view that the public seems more concerned about the types of businesses coming in than building heights. She agreed with Herman, arguing that protecting river views is as important as development.
Councilor Tom Brownson stressed the importance of including the plan districts to ensure the Port’s economic viability, while ensuring it is economically viable for developers to invest in improving the area.
“If we get too restrictive, we’re stifling growth,” he said. “We’re stifling development. The Riverwalk area, it needs work. We want it to look better.”
City Manager Brett Estes asked that councilors not entirely focus on hotels and restaurants, pointing toward large buildings such as Englund Marine & Industrial Supply. Jones echoed the point.
“I don’t want to restrict us from ever attracting another employer to our community that wants to build a big building and either employ a lot of people and/or build stuff,” Jones said. “I don’t want a bunch of Dutch Bros. coffee shops, and say, ‘That’s the only thing we allow in our town.’ That’s not what we need.”