The Astoria City Council has tentatively moved toward upholding the denial of a proposed Grocery Outlet over concerns about pedestrian orientation and the building’s fit within the Gateway Overlay Zone.
Main & Main Capital Group hopes to build a 16,000-square-foot store on a triangular lot where Commercial Street runs into Marine Drive. The building would face west toward a parking lot on the curve of Marine Drive, its back to 23rd Street and the Astoria Co+op’s new store in the Mill Pond neighborhood.
The company also began work last fall on a new 18,000-square-foot Grocery Outlet in Seaside after resolving concerns about a turn lane off busy U.S. Highway 101.
Michael Robinson, a lawyer representing Main & Main, declined to comment after the meeting Monday night about whether the company would appeal Astoria’s decision. Representatives from Main & Main could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Design Review Commission denied the application last year over the building’s vehicle-oriented design, making pedestrians cross lanes of traffic to enter the store or a driveway while walking along Marine Drive. The Gateway Overlay Zone promotes a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood.
Main & Main appealed the commission’s denial to the City Council, requesting a fresh hearing and coming back with a new concept of sharing an existing driveway with the Astoria Mini Mart. But city councilors had the same concerns over Main & Main’s ability to create a pedestrian-oriented design for such a large store on a constricted lot.
“In some ways, it seems like a very dogged attempt to hammer a square peg into a triangular-shaped hole,” City Councilor Roger Rocka said.
Councilor Jessamyn West, in concerns echoed by Councilor Joan Herman, said she didn’t see the revised plan as coming close to meeting pedestrian standards as long as they have to walk through a parking lot to get to the store.
Councilor Tom Brownson argued Main & Main should do everything possible to meet city standards if it wants to put a grocery store on such a constricted site. He wondered whether the City Council could attach a condition to reorient the front of the building toward Commercial Street to the north or 23rd Street to the east, eliminating the need for pedestrians to walk through a parking lot.
Changing the orientation of the entire building would require a new application entirely, said Rosemary Johnson, a city planning consultant.
While Main & Main made other changes to satisfy design requirements, the orientation of the building and the pedestrian access through a parking lot has always remained the same, despite the city conveying concern, Johnson said. Main & Main has argued that crossing a parking lot is inherent to a grocery store, where the majority of shoppers would be coming by car.
“To maximize the safety benefits of a path within our site, we choose to place the path between two rows of parking, in a position that is accessible to both users of the parking lot and pedestrians coming from Marine Drive,” Robinson wrote in a final rebuttal. “The applicant believes this choice provides a greater safety benefit than a separated path, which serves only a tiny fraction of visitors to the site.”
Mayor Bruce Jones argued the proposed development would be a marked improvement from TP Freight, a run-down truck depot without sidewalks or any other safety amenities for pedestrians.
“Regardless of what goes into this particular plot that’s at the intersection of Marine and Commercial, does anyone really foresee that having the potential to become more heavily pedestrian in the future?” Jones asked councilors. “I don’t see that. I see people walking on the Riverwalk that would want to come up 23rd to come to something that’s built there.”
A majority of councilors were OK with the shared access with Mini Mart off of Marine Drive, where Herman said a central median will reduce congestion from cars waiting to turn. Whether access to Marine Drive would be safe would be decided by city and state engineers.
A majority also took no issue with the building’s nonhistorical design, given other modern-looking buildings nearby, but wanted a classier look and more of a nod to the area’s history. Rocka said he wants a building that reflects a small city rather than a shopping center. Herman called for a more aesthetically pleasing design, like the raw wood incorporated into the co-op’s new building.
“I don’t think the building itself is too large for the neighborhood, but it is for the site,” Herman said.
The City Council voted unanimously to have Johnson work on the findings for denial. Main & Main could appeal the denial to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.