The Grocery Outlet appeal came before the Astoria City Council on Tuesday, with the developer asking for collaboration to ensure an agreeable project and city staff admonishing councilors to avoid outside contacts that could undercut their decision.
Main & Main Capital Group has been trying since last year to get city permission to build a 16,000-square-foot grocery store on a triangular lot where Exchange Street runs into Marine Drive. The store would be located just north of the Astoria Mini Mart and across 23rd Street from the new location of the Astoria Co+op.
The Design Review Commission denied the proposal over several issues, including safety concerns for pedestrians crossing a driveway entrance to the store on Marine Drive. After being denied, Main & Main sought a fresh hearing from the City Council.
Councilors will likely decide next month whether to approve or deny the appeal, or remand the issue back to the Design Review Commission.
The developer originally proposed access to the store directly from the TP Freight Lines truck depot property off Marine Drive. The revised application rerouted the driveway to an existing Marine Drive entrance on the west side of the Mini Mart.
Main & Main secured the agreement after threatening litigation against Don Patterson, whose family owns the Mini Mart. Unbeknownst to the family when they purchased the property, a water-oil separator for their Shell gas station crosses into the truck depot property, Patterson said.
“Basically, they said, ‘Hey, we’re going to take you to court, or help us out,’” he said of the agreement.
Dan Dover, a co-owner of Main & Main, told the City Council that the rerouting of the entrance meets the spirit of the Gateway Overlay Zone to reduce vehicle access points along Marine Drive and ensures approval by the state. The application also addressed the Design Review Commission’s concerns by adding windows on the south side of the store and lowering the height of a roadside sign.
He called on the City Council to approve the project and tell his company how to make it acceptable.
“The site is an allowed use by the zone,” Dover said. “We are just doing our best to take direction from the city to conform to what you want. We need specific direction on how to accomplish that.”
The property is owned by the Heestand family, and family members traveled from Texas, Seattle and Gresham to appeal to the City Council for approval after years of marketing the property.
“The Heestand family wants a good and productive use of the property that is there,” William Heestand, the son of the late truck depot owner, said. “But we are left with a very difficult and unpalatable choice.”
Without approval of the Grocery Outet, the family will be forced to lease the existing building to whoever wants it, he said. TP Freight Lines is in the process of building a new location in Miles Crossing.
The Design Review Commission took issue with a lack of pedestrian orientation at the proposed store, which includes a pedestrian pathway through the parking lot. The revised application still includes the pedestrian pathway, albeit farther removed from the driveway’s entrance to Marine Drive.
Rosemary Johnson, a planning consultant for the city, reminded councilors that the pedestrian access and driveway, while critical issues, are matters for state and city engineers to review, and could ultimately change.
“While they were coming back with a lot of changes, the Marine Drive access and pedestrian orientation were things that we never did come to full agreement on,” she said of Main & Main.
Opponents of the Grocery Outlet argued that the design poses safety concerns to pedestrians and does not meet design standards emphasizing the area’s history or walkability focus.
Ty Wyman, an attorney for the co-op, said the Design Review Commission’s initial denial of the project got it right. The co-op will join the defense if Main & Main’s appeal is denied and the developer takes the issue to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, he said.
Opponents questioned why the Heestands haven’t already improved the property, a run-down truck depot surrounded by a potholed gravel parking lot, while marketing to potential buyers. Jorge Garcia, a resident, wondered why the Heestands hadn’t even invested in sidewalks despite more pedestrians in the area.
“I would ask, as a citizen, that you guys beautify a little bit the property to make it more palatable to other people that might be interested in purchasing it,” he said.
With the public hearing closed, Main & Main has a week to submit a final written rebuttal before the City Council reconvenes next month for deliberation.