The Astoria City Council on Monday unanimously approved development restrictions around the Astoria Bridge, declining the Port of Astoria’s calls to hold off on preserving two view corridors in Uniontown that run through its property.
The Bridge Vista overlay zone is one of four sections in the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan guiding development along the Columbia River. It covers properties between Portway and Second streets and reflects a desire to preserve the public’s view of the bridge and the river through smaller buildings and other standards.
Bridge Vista has been under discussion for several years, with codes approved in 2015. But a new City Council started looking at amendments following criticism over the approval of a four-story Fairfield Inn & Suites at the former Ship Inn restaurant and amid mounting pressure against new hotels.
City councilors agreed last month 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 in between structures.
The Port and Fort George Brewery, the new owner of the Astoria Warehousing property, can apply with the City Council in the next five years for exceptions to the building restrictions by submitting master plans for their properties. The plan districts are a nod to the unique potential of the properties to attract industry, manufacturing and higher-paying jobs.
City councilors argued that the restrictions strike a balance between property owners’ rights and a public desire to preserve river views. The council has increased allowable building size and height from what had initially been broached, while creating more restrictive rules than those approved in 2015, Mayor Bruce Jones said.
“I think it’s a good compromise between citizens who are pushing for greater protection of the waterfront, and the property owners who are pushing to not have their rights restricted,” he said.
A last-minute sticking point was the protection of two view corridors from the dead-end Bay and Basin streets in Uniontown to the river. Two business owners worried their views could be taken away by the development of a vacant piece of land at the end of Bay Street. The Port leases the lot to developer Mark Hollander, who is behind the Fairfield Inn and has sought to build multiple Marriott hotel franchises in Astoria.
Dirk Rohne, the president of the Port Commission, asked the City Council to approve Bridge Vista code amendments but set aside the view corridors, arguing they were last-minute additions that undercut the Port Commission’s legitimacy to manage the agency’s property.
“We were elected to oversee its management,” Rohne said, reading an email he wrote to City Councilor Roger Rocka. “The city is unilaterally imposing its will on the Port with the imposition of the view corridors. It was with complete disregard to the elected Port board that the City Council does this.”
Jim Knight, who resigned in June as the Port’s executive director, had pushed for the plan districts. He said it was preordained that the City Council wanted more restrictions to protect views, and that the city has yet to look at the economic impact of not allowing property to be developed to its full potential.
While city councilors were open to collaborating with the Port Commission, a majority did not support delaying Bridge Vista amendments over the view corridors. Councilor Joan Herman and Councilor Jessamyn West noted that the business owners appealing for view corridors were not at Monday’s meeting to plead their case.
Councilors accepted the conclusion of Rosemary Johnson, a city planning consultant, that the view corridors would not reduce the square footage that can be built on the affected properties, but slightly shift building placement to the west. They also noted the flexibility the plan districts give the Port to potentially bypass some development restrictions.
“We have tried to accommodate as best we can the need for Port development and industrial development,” Rocka said. “People keep talking about the value of a working waterfront, and I agree with that. But what is a working waterfront? It’s not hotels.”