The Astoria Design Review Commission voted unanimously Thursday night against a new Grocery Outlet near the Mill Pond neighborhood.
Commissioners cited access off Marine Drive and the challenges it could pose to pedestrians as central issues in their denial.
The Texas-based developer, Main & Main Capital Group, can come back with a revised design for the discount grocery project or appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council.
“To me, this isn’t about telling Grocery Outlet to go away,” Commissioner Ian Sisson said. “It’s about getting a good design for the site.”
The developer wants to build a 16,000-square-foot building on a constricted, triangle-shaped lot where Commercial Street runs into Marine Drive. The back of the store would face 23rd Street, across from the new Astoria Co+op slated to open in December.
The developer proposed access to the store directly off Marine Drive, with pedestrians on Marine Drive and in the store’s parking lot having to cross a driveway on striped paths to reach the entrance.
Neighbors and supporters of the co-op argued that the access on Marine Drive would pose a danger to pedestrians and complicate traffic.
Rosemary Johnson, a city planning consultant, said the pedestrian-oriented focus of the Gateway Overlay zone discourages buildings with drive-up facilities and massive parking lots people have to walk through, which is what the Grocery Outlet design entails.
“That’s where the commission can look either way and say, ‘This particular project does not bring the building up to that pedestrian level,’” she said.
Sisson, a planner for Clatsop County, argued that based on staff’s interpretation of pedestrian orientation, the store’s layout does not meet guidelines by simply using striping to guide people through the parking lot and past a driveway on Marine Drive.
“Being pedestrian-oriented to me is very important, and I don’t think the project hits the mark on that,” he said.
Commissioner Sarah Jane Bardy agreed with Sisson’s assessment, calling the potential dangers similar to those faced by pedestrians who enter Safeway from the parking lot.
While a majority of commissioners found the design of the building to pass muster, Bardy took issue with what she considered the cookie-cutter design of the store, similar to Grocery Outlet stores that recently broke ground in Seaside and Tillamook.
Commissioner Hilarie Phelps argued that Grocery Outlet would not slow down traffic on Marine Drive any more than drivers turning into the nearby Mini Mart or on and off 23rd Street to the new co-op.
“I don’t think it’s a lot that will ever be — no matter what you put there — particularly pedestrian-friendly because of its specific location,” she said.
Commission President Jared Rickenbach toyed with the idea of eliminating access from Marine Drive as a condition of approval, arguing that would address the majority of people’s concerns about the project. Instead, the finding was cited in the 5-0 vote to deny the project.
Phelps and Commissioner Bob Levine shared concerns that the store’s proposed monument sign, elevated 10 feet in the air, would block the view of passing motorists on Marine Drive from seeing traffic on Commercial Street.
The commission’s denial can be appealed to the City Council within 15 days.