Astoria Co-op, neighbors reach compromise

The Astoria Co-op Grocery plans to build a new store in the Mill Pond neighborhood.

The Astoria Co-op Grocery could break ground on a new store as early as January after reaching a compromise with neighbors.

The City Council was scheduled to hear arguments from both sides earlier this month after three property owners appealed a city board’s approval of the co-op’s plans to expand from downtown to property in the Mill Pond neighborhood.

The natural and organic food store planned to use Steam Whistle Way, a narrow road that runs between the co-op’s land and the Mill Pond properties, as the new store’s access road — a move that could have created traffic snarls and safety issues in the neighborhood, the property owners argued.

But instead of refuting their claims, developer Don Vallaster, representing the co-op, announced he had new designs to submit. Under the new plans, access to the store will be from 23rd Street, on the west side of the property directly off Marine Drive. Steam Whistle Way will remain a neighborhood road. The redesign means the store will have a slightly smaller loading bay.

On Monday, the City Council accepted the compromise and voted unanimously to reject the neighbors’ appeal. City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill, the marketing director for the co-op, did not attend the meeting and has recused herself from council decisions and discussions about the project.

City Manager Brett Estes said it is the first time in his career he has witnessed this kind of peaceful compromise after an issue has reached the battleground of the appeals process. The matter had the potential to go beyond the city to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, draining resources on both sides and further delaying or even halting the co-op’s plans to build a new store. 

“I would like to personally thank all of you for being involved with this,” Mayor Arline LaMear told the two groups. “It’s a wonderful example of how democracy should work.” 

“Now we get to do our work, which is put the plans together and get them in for permits and build this,” Vallaster said afterwards. 

He anticipates the new store could be completed within the next year and perhaps open by early 2020. The co-op still must obtain necessary building permits from the city, but Vallaster doesn’t expect to encounter any issues and hopes to have the permits in hand by the end of November. The Mill Pond Village Owners Association will also need to sign off on landscaping plans for the new store. Vallaster anticipates he might need to make a few changes based on the association’s recommendations.

In their appeal, the three Mill Pond property owners emphasized that they were not against the co-op, but merely objected to the use of Steam Whistle Way.

On Monday, John Ryan, one of the neighbors, urged the City Council to accept the new plans, saying they represented a “conclusion that we could all agree on.”

“I think the Mill Pond residents in total are going to come together and all support the co-op,” he said afterwards. “We’re looking forward to having a restaurant and a grocery store as neighbors.”

In Ryan’s opinion, the co-op’s willingness to change the access road solidified the store’s place in Mill Pond. 

“It was a neighborly act,” he said.