The Astoria City Council tentatively denied a project that would have converted a 5-unit apartment building on Commercial Street into Airbnb-style rentals.

The unanimous decision upheld a Planning Commission vote in June to deny the application from Stewardship Homes LLC. The Tigard company appealed the Planning Commission’s denial, saying the commission’s concerns over lack of parking and the loss of long-term rentals did not apply.

Downtown Astoria

City leaders are concerned about the lack of long-term rentals.

But city councilors added to the list at the appeals hearing Monday, saying they did not believe the use was a good fit for the neighborhood. They questioned how the project would benefit the city.

City Councilor Roger Rocka noted the two-story building’s proximity to a community park and the First Baptist Church. Though located in a commercial zone, the feeling of the neighborhood is decidedly residential, he said.

Councilor Jessamyn West pointed to the council’s goals established earlier this year, one of which is to support efforts to increase Astoria’s long-term housing supply.

The councilors did commend Matt Gillis, of Stewardship Homes, for his care of other buildings he owns in the city.

Gillis and Garrett Stephenson, the lawyer representing Stewardship Homes, said they understood the concerns about housing.

“But,” argued Stephenson, “I think, at a very central level, that’s a citywide problem and that’s not for this application to solve.”

Nor is there any requirement for Gillis to offer housing at affordable or workforce rates, he noted.

A ban on converting residential units into short-term rentals was not under consideration when Stewardship Homes submitted its application, Stephenson said. He also argued against using the perceived lack of on-street parking as grounds for denial.

But concerns about housing remained a sticking point for city councilors and people opposed to the project.

Sara Lu Heath, executive director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, wrote that the association has heard “from our membership that there is not adequate workforce housing in Astoria, and this is hindering attempts to hire, expand, and in some cases just keep normal business (hours). Losing this asset is not in the best interest of our year-round community.”

City staff will rewrite their findings to reflect the City Council’s arguments. The City Council plans to finalize its denial of the appeal at a special meeting on Tuesday.

Katie Frankowicz is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact her at 971-704-1723 or kfrankowicz@dailyastorian.com.

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