Astoria Co-op gets green light

The Astoria Co-op Grocery plans an expanded store in the Mill Pond neighborhood.

The Astoria Co-op cleared its last major hurdle with the city Thursday night, landing an approval to build a larger store east of downtown.

The city’s Design Review Committee voted 4-1 to approve the organic and natural food store’s application to build on property in the Mill Pond neighborhood. Unless someone appeals the committee’s decision, this marks the last public hearing for the co-op’s application.

Committee member Hilarie Phelps was the sole “no” vote, and Sarah Jane Bardy gave her “yes” with reluctance. She was conflicted about the grocery store’s application, especially the way the building was situated on the property, but agreed the application met the city’s criteria.

“We have worked really hard to try to meet that criteria and we’ve done that and they were able to recognize that,” Matt Stanley, general manager for the co-op, said afterward.

When asked how soon the co-op needs to break ground to stay on track, Stanley said: “Really the sooner the better.”

The co-op is tapping into the federal new markets tax credit to help cover the costs of the expansion, estimated to cost $8 million total.

“The funds are conditionally approved for the co-op, but they don’t stick around forever,” Stanley said.

The co-op faced a setback in May when the Design Review Committee asked the grocery to adjust aspects of its proposal and decided to continue the hearing into June. Committee members worried about how the building was situated, pedestrian access, the use of narrow Steam Whistle Way off 23rd Street as the access road to the co-op’s parking lot, and a long nondescript west-facing wall that will form the back of the store.

Architect Don Vallaster, who is helping develop the new store, tried to address these issues in an updated application Thursday. Developers had already proposed widening Steam Whistle Way from 20 feet to 24 feet, but after the May meeting also added windows and landscaping along the western wall. They plan to install signage at the parking lot to discourage vehicles from turning east and driving through Mill Pond and will look into creating a one-way flow of traffic through the parking lot, among other tweaks.

Vallaster and Stanley defended the orientation of the building, which puts the main entrance facing east. It is the layout that works best for the co-op, Vallaster said. He and others argued that the property was always intended for commercial use and the new co-op building will be especially compatible in a semi-residential setting.

The co-op still must work with the city’s building official and public works department, the Oregon Department of Transportation and other state agencies to break ground. And it must also work with the homeowners association of Mill Pond Village. Members whose homes or property abut Steam Whistle Way — the proposed access road to the co-op’s parking lot — remain against the co-op’s relocation. They worry the store’s presence will impact quality of life, create safety concerns along Steam Whistle Way and cause traffic snarls.

The homeowners association needs to evaluate its options after Thursday’s approval, said Cheryl Storey, the association’s president. Testimony she gave reflected the concerns of both residents who live near the proposed expansion site as well as the association. She says the board will need to determine if they are representing residents’ concerns as a whole as the homeowners association, or if further action should only be pursued by individual property owners who are most impacted by the new development.

Anyone who testified at the committee’s public hearings can appeal the decision within the next 15 days.

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