Astoria city councilors didn’t completely go back to the drawing board while discussing riverfront development in Uniontown, but they did suggest some changes.
Mayor Bruce Jones was the only one ready to support recommendations from the Planning Commission on changes to the codes that guide development in Bridge Vista at a hearing Monday night.
This section of the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan applies to waterfront properties between Portway Street and Second Street. However, when Jones made a motion to accept the recommendations, it failed to gain support from the rest of the City Council.
Other councilors had suggestions and concerns that ranged from how tall and large buildings could be in Bridge Vista to plan districts proposed by city staff that could allow the Port of Astoria and the Astoria Warehousing developers some relief from certain restrictions.
The City Council plans to continue discussing the issue at a meeting in September.
At a meeting in July, following numerous hearings and hours of public testimony and discussion, the Planning Commission believed it had hit on a good compromise between property owners who wanted flexibility in how they developed their lots and residents who worried about new buildings that could block river views and limit access to the Columbia River.
Previously, the Planning Commission had reached a consensus to cap building heights at 28 feet, but reversed course in July.
It was time to send something off to the City Council to wrestle over, the commissioners concluded. They voted 6-1 in favor of allowing buildings up to 35 feet, but with a floor area ratio plan that means the higher a building rises, the narrower it must be to maintain views.
The proposal also included two plan districts for the Port of Astoria and Astoria Warehousing. If approved by the city, these plans would potentially provide relief from restrictions outlined in Bridge Vista.
But City Councilor Tom Brownson said he thinks the parameters for the Port’s plan district are more restrictive than those that would be placed on Astoria Warehousing. The Port’s success benefits the wider community, he argued.
Given the Port’s tenuous financial position and leadership uncertainty, he proposed giving the Port even more flexibility in Bridge Vista.
Councilor Joan Herman took the opposite view and said she has major concerns about the plan districts.
The Port and Astoria Warehousing own around 80% of the land in Bridge Vista. If the City Council allows major exemptions through the plan districts, she said she was left wondering, “Why did we bother (with the Bridge Vista codes)?”
Until individual master plans are approved by the city for the plan districts, the Bridge Vista codes will apply to all the property within the overlay zone. The Port and Astoria Warehousing will have five years to develop these master plans once the Bridge Vista code amendments are finalized.
Herman also suggested reducing the total square footage from 30,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.
City Councilor Roger Rocka had some concerns about what kind of flexibility the city might grant through tools like plan districts, especially since no one knows what might be developed along the riverfront in the future.
“We’re dealing with the unknown and we’re trying to create code that somehow deals with this unknown,” he said.
Councilor Jessamyn West said people’s fears seem to be less about the difference between 28-foot and 35-foot buildings and more about the types of development that could come to Bridge Vista, such as national chains or more large hotels.
She asked the City Council to consider a moratorium on new building permits in Bridge Vista and another section of the riverfront plan, the Urban Core, until the city’s community development director position is filled.
“We actually have quite an array of perspectives here,” Brownson said.
Originally, the purpose of the code amendments was to address gaps and inconsistencies that came to light when city boards and planning staff were evaluating an application by Hollander Hospitality to build a four-story Marriott-brand hotel — the Fairfield Inn and Suites — off Second Street.
City planning consultant Rosemary Johnson said Monday that she believed the staff’s concerns regarding the clarity and consistency of the codes was addressed in a series of amendments that passed relatively easily earlier this year.
The sticking points continue to be questions of building height and size.
At the direction of the City Council in February, staff and the Planning Commission were asked to consider changes to height and mass allowed in Bridge Vista. City code allows a maximum height of 45 feet, but Rocka — supported by Herman and West — had suggested a limit of 28 feet. This cap has since become a rallying point for people looking for stricter waterfront development codes.