The Astoria City Council moved toward enacting a new set of downtown development rules after agreeing to allow redevelopment on a Sixth Street dock that used to house the Cannery Cafe.
City councilors held a public hearing Monday night for the development standards recommended by the Planning Commission in the Urban Core, a swath of downtown and waterfront properties between Second and 16th streets.
The Urban Core is the last of four sections of the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan guiding development along the Columbia River. The City Council has approved new development rules for Bridge Vista in Uniontown, the Civic Greenway east of downtown and the Neighborhood Greenway in Alderbrook.
The proposed rules largely limit development over piling fields and existing docks to the height of the riverbank to protect views, while allowing redevelopment of existing waterfront buildings.
One of those limitation areas covers the piling fields west of the Sixth Street viewing platform, along with a dock once home to the Cannery Cafe before it burned down in 2010. Just east is a dock once home to No. 10 Sixth St., which also burned during the fire and is in a nonlimitation zone open to redevelopment. Both lots are owned by No. 10 Sixth Street Ltd., a partnership between developers Chester Trabucco and Stephen Allen.
The partnership gave up development rights between Fifth and Sixth streets, where it had once proposed a four-story condominium tower, in order to clear the way for a new kidney dialysis center at Sixth Street and Marine Drive.
Trabucco asked the City Council on Monday to take the Cannery Cafe dock out of the limitation zone and clear the way for a Cannery Cafe replica, along with a future commercial and residential mixed-use development at No. 10 Sixth St. to bring more activity to the viewing platform.
“It’s pretty much occupied almost entirely — up until the time they started the bridge (replacement) process — with transients,” Trabucco said. “And unless there’s something going on down there, that’s likely going to be the case in the future.”
City councilors appeared OK with allowing redevelopment of the former Cannery Cafe dock. City Councilor Jessamyn West recounted witnessing the fire that consumed the property.
“I think that people have kind of wondered what would be that particular area’s fate,” she said.
The Planning Commission recommended a 28-foot, two-story limit on buildings over the water — up to 35 feet, or three stories, for water-dependent uses. They preserved an 80-foot view corridor along the Astoria Riverwalk, along with 70 feet along streets. Buildings within 100 feet of the Riverwalk corridor could rise to 35 feet, and to 45 feet, or four stories, farther inland.
City Councilor Joan Herman raised the possibility of limiting all buildings downtown to 35 feet, worried about a wall of four-story buildings lining Marine Drive. Rosemary Johnson, a planning consultant for the city, said most of the buildings along Marine Drive are historical and cannot be demolished without city approval.
“It would take another 1922 fire or something like that to get to that stage,” Johnson said, mentioning a catastrophic fire that destroyed much of downtown.
The Planning Commission, agreeing on more permissive development rules downtown, heard feedback about the challenge of property owners trying to find the money to maintain their buildings. They recommended conditionally allowing hotels in existing buildings over water, along with professional and medical offices in a new or remodeled building. They wanted to allow seafood processing north of the Astoria Riverfront Trolley tracks, responding to concerns by Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fisheries and a nearby building where he is building out a distillery at the foot of Fourth Street, that he needs flexibility to survive.
The proposed zone changes in the downtown core also include the conversion of nearly 14 acres of tourist-oriented zones to more general commercial. The tourism zones, needed in more difficult economic times to spur development, are no longer necessary, Johnson said.
Mayor Bruce Jones lauded the Planning Commission and staff’s transparency in creating a set of new downtown development rules that balance the push to preserve views of the river with private property rights.
“People concerned with river views ought to take great heart in the fact that there’s way more protection under this proposal than exists today,” he said.
The proposed development codes will come back for one more reading, including an addition of Trabucco’s dock, before adoption by the City Council.