A member of the Design Review Committee who twice voted against a waterfront hotel project in Astoria refuted claims Monday that she acted unprofessionally when she testified against the project at a hearing last month.
Sarah Jane Bardy said she received a closed-door reprimand from new Mayor Bruce Jones for her public comments against the Marriott-brand Fairfield Inn and Suites. The project, a four-story, 60-plus room hotel at the base of Second Street, faced community pushback, but overcame multiple denials by city boards to win a City Council appeal.
Jones replied that he wanted to confront Bardy face to face about behavior he believes was unacceptable for a representative of the city.
Bardy, who had applied for an open position on the Planning Commission, assumed Jones wanted to talk to her about her application when he scheduled a meeting with her last week. As mayor, Jones makes appointments to city boards.
Instead, she said Jones told her she could not be both an advocate and a Design Review Committee member. City councilors and other city board members had called for her removal, he said, because they did not believe she could be impartial.
“I was scolded for attending, speaking and clapping after public testimony at the Marriott hotel City Council appeal hearing, all of which I believe I have the right to do,” Bardy said during a public comment period during a City Council meeting on Monday night.
She said her comments were no more disrespectful than the City Council overturning the decision of two city boards that had denied the hotel project three different times.
In October, the Design Review Committee vetted a redesign of the Fairfield project, ending with a split 2-2 vote. Bardy, who voted against the project, said the large hotel was out of scale for the waterfront. Hollander Hospitality, the developer, appealed the decision to the City Council.
Jones, former Mayor Arline LaMear and City Councilor Tom Brownson voted in December to uphold the appeal, citing lack of clarity in the city’s development code. Jones later used the debate as an example of why the City Council should re-examine and perhaps change the code in the future.
Bardy had given public testimony against the project at the same hearing. She said she was there to remind city councilors that the Design Review Committee “denied (the project) for a reason.”
“We don’t owe Hollander Hospitality anything,” she said. “We don’t work for them. They’re going to get a hotel here and that’s fine, but they don’t get to call all the shots.”
Afterward, when Hollander Hospitality won the appeal, Bardy proposed they place a park bench bearing the names of the city councilors who voted for the project in front of the hotel “so that we never forget who voted in favor of it and started this slippery slope.”
Jones said Monday that “I had every right to remove you from the council after your disrespectful behavior as I was urged to by many people. I chose not to. I made a decision: I am going to meet with this young woman of whom I’ve got about 35 more years of leadership and management experience and personnel management experience than you.”
A mayor can remove someone from a city board without cause, but Jones, a former Coast Guard commander, said, “You know, that’s chickenshit, I don’t behave that way.”
“I would never, unless it was something that was criminal … just remove someone without explanation,” he added. “I think that is unprofessional and rude.”
It was not disrespectful for the City Council to uphold the hotel appeal even though the Design Review Committee had denied the project, Jones said. Each board was doing its part, he added.
Jones told Bardy, who was sitting almost directly in front of him in the audience at City Hall on Monday, that he did not regret meeting with her. She was respectful during their meeting, he said.
“All the people who told me it’s going to blow up in your face, it’s going to be taken out of context, well they were right,” he said . “You’ve decided to come up here and make this pitch, but the truth of the matter is the mayor appoints and the mayor unappoints to committees without any responsibility to explain why.”
He had opted to keep Bardy on the Design Review Committee. She was not appointed to the Planning Commission.
“So if you think you’ve got a ‘gotcha’ moment on me, that you’re going to tell everybody that I chewed you out, yeah, I did chew you out,” he said. “I chewed you out because I thought what you did was unprofessional and immature as many other people do, too.”
“I thought that meeting was unprofessional,” Bardy rejoined from the audience.
It is unusual for a city board member to testify on an open development application the way Bardy did at the appeal hearing in December, City Manager Brett Estes said afterward, but it is not explicitly against any rules.
Bardy, the owner of Eleventh Street Barber downtown, says she received messages, emails and support from people in Astoria after her comments at the appeal hearing. At the time, her comments were greeted with applause from the audience.
“The (Design Review Committee) does important work,” Bardy said outside the City Council meeting. “I would like to stay on it.”