Bridge Vista moves into view

The Astoria Planning Commission is discussing proposals to change zoning in a thin strip of Uniontown waterfront area north of Marine Drive, south of the Astoria Riverfront Trolley line and between the Dunes Motel and the Holiday Inn. The land lies within the Bridge Vista area, part of the Astoria Riverfront Vision Plan.

The Astoria Planning Commission moved toward consensus Tuesday night on the Bridge Vista phase of the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan, which could include development restrictions near the Astoria Bridge and west of Second Street, a new pedestrian-friendly zone in Uniontown, and expanded commercial opportunities.

A city planning consultant will brief the City Council on Bridge Vista in February and draft recommendations will likely be the subject of a public hearing before the Planning Commission in March.

The city hopes to complete the Bridge Vista phase, which runs from the Port of Astoria to Second Street, by June.

The Riverfront Vision Plan presumes there will be new development along and over the Columbia River in the Bridge Vista blueprint, but much of the public feedback so far has been strongly against encouraging development projects that might obstruct views or spoil the region’s distinct character.

“I think we’ve found a balanced compromise that allows us to go forward and the community to continue to develop,” said Dave Pearson, the deputy director of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, who was chosen Tuesday night as the new president of the Planning Commission, replacing Zetty Nemlowill, who was elected to the City Council.

“We’ve preserved the views. We keep what’s important for the riverfront and the pedestrians.”

Commissioners have approached consensus on limiting development over the river near the bridge and west of Second Street near the Ship Inn and the old White Star Cannery boiler. Building heights would be restricted to the top of the riverbank in these areas. In other sections, building heights over the river could be 35 feet up from the riverbank.

Building width would be limited to 150 feet, and spacing between buildings would be no closer than 40 feet to preserve view corridors.

On shore, building heights would be up to 35 feet, or 45 feet with stepbacks to help protect views.

Commissioners are also supportive of a new pedestrian-friendly zone near the bridge that could include retail, hotels and commercial projects but would exclude auto-dependent uses, like gas stations, along with drive-through facilities and manufacturing.

Off-street parking requirements would likely be reduced in the pedestrian-friendly zone.

Commissioners are interested in an expanded commercial zone along the river with a broader range of retail, commercial and residential options but restrictions on automotive sales or services and light manufacturing.

While Matt Hastie, the city’s planning consultant, and others have stressed that the land-use changes would impose development restrictions that do not exist today, the public reaction — like it was during the Civic Greenway phase of the four-leg Riverfront Vision Plan — has been mostly critical.

City Councilor Drew Herzig questioned whether the Planning Commission had heard the public outcry against development at a town hall meeting on Bridge Vista in Uniontown earlier this month.

He said the preponderance of the public feedback has called for “extremely limited development.”

David Carter, who said he and his wife bought a home on Franklin Avenue last spring, told the commission he is concerned his spectacular views of the river might be obstructed.

“My primary concern is that I paid a premium and I feel like I’m going to lose that value of my property by what’s occurring here,” he said.

Commissioner McLaren Innes said she was looking for a middle ground between “development versus no development.”

“We are hearing from, so often now, groups of people who’d want no development,” she said. “And yet I don’t know how to reconcile that with all the people that told us vis-a-vis the Riverfront Vision Plan that it should be balanced.”

Commissioner Kent Easom said views change at different spots along the river and the city.

“And buildings are part of the view,” he said. “If you don’t want any buildings to look at, then go get an ocean view. But along the river, along a town, it may have buildings.”

Commissioner Sean Fitzpatrick said he hoped Bridge Vista would not be as contentious as the debate over the Civic Greenway, which covered land use along the river from 16th Street to 41st Street.

“Our job is to reduce what is currently allowed and make it palatable, make it fit into this document here,” he said of the Riverfront Vision Plan. “So we’re not a group up here proposing something and trying to ruin people’s views.

“And I hope that all of the dialogue from the public from here on, that they can understand that everybody here loves the riverfront. We all love the views. We love this town.

“And we appreciate the character that it has and we have no intention of trying to destroy that.”