A panel tasked with reviewing ideas for workforce housing at Heritage Square has made a recommendation to the Astoria City Council.
Two Portland-based developers, Edlen & Co. and Related, submitted proposals for the downtown block near City Hall after the city requested expressions of interest last fall.
A group of city leaders and stakeholders, appointed by Mayor Bruce Jones, conducted private interviews with the two teams on Jan. 11, and after discussion agreed the city should move forward with the proposal by Edlen & Co.
In a memo on Friday, John Southgate, a city consultant, said two of the six panelists argued that neither proposal is responsive to the city’s workforce housing objectives, “but if the commission finds that the proposed income range is consistent with its objectives, they likewise would recommend Edlen over Related.”
Southgate added, “It will be important for council to discuss their definitions of workforce and affordable housing and who this project intends to primarily serve, ideally acknowledging that Edlen’s proposal serves the widest range of incomes.”
The City Council, acting as the Astoria Development Commission, will discuss the proposals and recommendation on Tuesday night. The council will consider code changes to enable development at Heritage Square at a public hearing on Feb. 7.
The panel that reviewed the proposals included City Manager Brett Estes; Megan Leatherman, the city’s community development director; Assistant County Manager Monica Steele; David Reid, the executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce; Jessamyn Grace West, the executive director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association; and Walt Postlewait, a developer and the executive vice president for nonprofit lender Craft3.
City councilors decided last year to use Heritage Square, a block located between 11th and 12th Street and bordered by Duane Street and Exchange Street, to help address a shortage of lower-cost housing.
The block includes the Garden of Surging Waves, a park that honors Astoria’s Chinese heritage, and Clatsop Post 12 of the American Legion. A parking lot along 12th is used by the Astoria Sunday Market from May to October. Another smaller lot sits at the corner of 11th and Exchange. A pit where the foundation of a former Safeway collapsed dominates the middle.
Edlen & Co.’s team, made up of several local partners, including Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, pitched two scenarios covering the open spaces of the block.
The first scenario involves 53 to 75 workforce housing units, depending on whether the building is three or four stories tall, along with 55 parking spaces and a ground floor devoted to a mix of residential uses and common rooms.
The second scenario involves 44 to 66 workforce housing units with common areas on the ground floor, retail concentrated near the corner of 12th and Duane and a possible child care facility at 12th and Exchange.
Both scenarios would serve households primarily earning 60% of the county’s median family income, although some could be targeted at households earning up to 80% of median family income or rented at market rate.
Two-thirds of the units in both scenarios would be studios or one-bedroom apartments. The rest would be two- or three-bedroom units.
Both scenarios include a separate four-story building on the smaller lot at 11th and Exchange in partnership with Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, Clatsop County’s mental health and substance abuse-treatment provider.
The building would include offices for the agency and wraparound services on the ground floor. Thirty-three micro units on upper floors would be reserved for the agency’s clients.
The building would not include parking, since the agency’s clients typically do not drive. The micro units would be priced very low, at about 30% of median family income, using project-based housing choice vouchers.
Southgate said two panelists stated opposition to the inclusion of the permanently supportive housing for Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, while the others were supportive.
Meanwhile, the other developer, Related, pitched three scenarios for a four-story building.
The first scenario includes 115 units, 97 parking spaces and considerable open space.
The second scenario includes 101 units, 50 parking spaces and a smaller plaza adjoining Garden of Surging Waves.
The third scenario includes 76 units and 77 parking spaces.
Each option would primarily serve households at 60% of median family income. They would include a possible playground or outdoor recreation use for the smaller lot at 11th and Exchange. A midblock pedestrian walkway is envisioned to run from Duane to Exchange, along with a plaza in the northwest corner of the site adjoining the eastern entrance to the Garden of Surging Waves.
On the ground floor, the team suggested a flexible meeting space that can be used for training, education and social services programs.
Southgate said the panel appreciated aspects of both proposals, but opted for Edlen & Co. because of its experience and inclusion of local partners. Other reasons included the greater range of incomes the team proposed, he said, along with its more comprehensive proposal covering the entire block.
In order to apply for the state’s affordable housing funds this year, the developer must have “property control,” such as an option to purchase or a purchase sale agreement, by time of the application deadline in spring, Southgate said.
If the city moves forward with the proposal by Edlen & Co., and the team secures state funding this year, construction could start in August 2023.
Edlen & Co.’s proposal included several letters of support from organizations, including the Astoria Co+op, Clatsop Community Action, the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization and the county Board of Commissioners.
“The supportive housing component will solve several community challenges simultaneously,” Viviana Matthews, the executive director of Clatsop Community Action, wrote. “It will increase the eligible workforce housing in the downtown area; it will support individuals who need extra assistance to remain successfully housed; and it will reduce the number of individuals who are currently homeless.
“Furthermore, the city can pride itself in having made concerted effort to address a complex problem that effects every community member.”
Mark Kujala, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said the project is an opportunity to “increase the viability and the availability of future workers and to proactively move individuals off the street who want to work but need a safe place to call home and the support of CBH to do so.”